York’s Colin Cushing works on drills during football practice.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times
York finished the 2013 football season 0-9. A decade later, the Dukes flipped that on its head, pulling off a perfect regular season for the first time in the program’s 103 years.
Three playoff victories, including a notable one against Catholic League power Marist, landed York in a Class 8A semifinal matchup against mighty Loyola.
‘‘Honestly, that was crazy,’’ senior offensive lineman Colin Cushing said. ‘‘Before the season, someone like Loyola seemed so distant from us. We were focusing on the conference, but then we just kept winning and winning. And then, wow, we were actually playing Loyola.’’
The Dukes lost to the Ramblers, but that removes none of the sparkle from the tremendous turnaround the program has experienced under Mike Fitzgerald, who took over as coach in 2018.
‘‘My brothers both played here,’’ senior running back Jake Melion said. ‘‘Coming to the game, you kind of knew they were going to lose, and it was hard to watch at times. Then you see [Fitzgerald] come in and completely change the culture. There’s a lot of excitement in the air. You can just feel it, people talking around town. It’s just awesome to be a part of.’’
York, which is ranked No. 7 in the preseason Super 25, played in front of huge home crowds last season. Quarterback Matt Vezza garnered most of the spotlight. He’s at New Hampshire now. Senior Sean Winton will take over at quarterback.
‘‘[Winton] has a strong, accurate arm and really understands the offense,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘He would have started for a lot of programs last year. He’s a very talented kid that was just behind another talented kid last year. He’s going to surprise a lot of people.’’
Melion was a key force for the offense last season. Fitzgerald says he’s talented enough to be a 1,000-yard rusher. Receiver Luke Mailander, an Illinois State recruit, is also back. Keep an eye on receiver Chris Danko and running back Jimmy Conners, as well.
But the key to the Dukes this season will be their defense.
‘‘Joe Reiff and Jack Trautmann as defensive ends are big, powerful, athletic kids,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘Then we have Cole Ostendorf, the player of the year in our conference, right in the middle of it.’’
Reiff, a 6-5, 235-pound junior, has a scholarship offer from Notre Dame, and Ostendorf had 90 tackles and 11.5 sacks last season.
The West Suburban Silver is loaded this season. Glenbard West, the traditional power, will be a factor, and Lyons returns the bulk of its squad that finished 9-3. Hinsdale Central is another Super 25-caliber team.
York’s Sean Winton prepares for a pass during football practice.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times
Fitzgerald has worked some magic in Elmhurst. The raw materials for success — money and enrollment — were always there at York, but Fitzgerald has built an elite program where no one else did.
‘‘Our coaching staff is unbelievable,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘And now we are starting to get younger kids that have heard our terminology for four years. That really pays off. They are not thinking; they are just playing.’’
Every team talks about culture, but senior linebacker Joey Maucieri describes what is working at York.
‘‘[Fitzgerald] did a great job of just inspiring us to want to be here,’’ Maucieri said. ‘‘That sounds simple, but it is a thing we actually look forward to. That translates to 90-plus guys in the weight room every day in the offseason, and that training shows in the results on the field.’’
Aug. 25 at Glenbrook South
Sept. 1 vs. Nazareth
Sept. 8 at Downers Grove South
Sept. 15 vs. Oak Park
Sept. 22 at Hinsdale Central
Sept. 29 at Downers Grove North
Oct. 6 vs. Glenbard West
Oct. 14 at Lyons
Oct. 20 vs. Proviso West