Greenfield - A much-improved defense, along with a strong running game, helped the Greenfield football team surge to a winning record in the 2011 season.
Inside linebacker Yazan Rizeq and defensive back Reggie Blakely were two of the key components of the defensive unit which helped the Hustlin' Hawks finish 5-4 and qualify for the WIAA playoffs for the first time since 2002.
At Whitnall, meanwhile, the emphasis remained on the passing game, and wide receiver Stephen Pelkofer turned in another big season to help keep the Falcons' offense flying high.
Rizeq, Blakely and Pelkofer were all honored for their contributions by earning spots on the 2011 NOW Newspapers All-Suburban team.
Rizeq, a senior, led the Hawks in tackles (42 solo and 35 assists), tackles for losses (14) and fumbles caused (four) while adding five sacks and a blocked kick. He spearheaded a defense that allowed just 91 rushing yards per contest.
"Yazan was a defensive mainstay for us the past two years," coach Scott Otto said. "He is a hard worker and good leader. Yazan was a vicious hitter who ran sideline to sideline. He did a great job in the off-season of preparing himself for his senior year."
Rizeq came into this season knowing the Hawks had a good outlook.
"Coach Otto made us believe," he said. "We were all together (as) a team. We had a bunch of guys work together; we didn't rely on any one person. We relied on each other to push forward and make the playoffs."
Rizeq is currently receiving recruiting interest from NCAA Division II and III schools, including Carroll University, Carthage College and Minnesota-Mankato.
Blakely came up with four interceptions this season, including one for a 100-yard touchdown, as well as collecting 37 solo tackles and 17 assists. He also knocked down 10 passes.
Blakely, like Rizeq, felt this year's Hawks were particularly motivated to win.
"The captains led us, and everybody worked hard in practice," he said.
As a junior, he will return next season, and he is optimistic about Greenfield's outlook.
"We should be good again next year," he continued. "We have some more good players coming up, some defensive backs."
He is already drawing interest from schools such as Michigan State University and Northern Illinois.
"Reggie is one of the most gifted young men I have ever coached," Otto said. "He is an outstanding defensive back who can cover as well as tackle. He is a true corner who has the ability to cover every route. He covered the opponent's best wideout and never received help."
One of the top receivers he covered this season was Pelkofer, who racked up 59 catches (third in the state) for 756 yards, a 12.8 average.
"He has led the Woodland Conference two years in a row in receiving as well as finishing third in the state two years in a row," coach Rob LeBoeuf said. "He has also destroyed every school record in receiving."
That is pretty heady stuff for someone who did not even play football until his junior year. Once he tried it, though, he quickly took to it.
"I just loved it," the senior said. "(Playing football) helped me in basketball too."
Pelkofer, who signed to play basketball with Northern Michigan University, had the benefit at Whitnall of playing with two talented quarterbacks, Joel Stave (now at the University of Wisconsin) and Luke Mentkowski.
"Joel was a big recruit, and Luke did a great job this year, which was tough to do, following Joel," Pelkofer said. "He really helped me and Sam (Mentkowski, the other main Whitnall receiver who had 45 catches). The passing game is just coach LeBoeuf's style of offense. We go for big plays, because we have a small (offensive) line and athletes on the perimeter."
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Whitnall football team handed yet another tough defeat by Rockets
- Ezekial Banks' long run boosts Greenfield football team past Messwood
- Football: Banks delivers big run as Greenfield rallies
- Football: Preps football photos of the week: Sept. 12
- Whitnall's Lauren Lent captures world championship in powerlifting
- Whitnall football team comes up just short once again in WC opener
- Trent Lower hired as new athletic director at Greenfield High School
- Football: Preps football photos of the week: Sept. 5
- Football battle of first-year coaches goes to Eisenhower over Whitnall
- Football: Preps football photos of the week: Aug. 29