The day before high school football practices started, New Trier head coach Brain Doll shared a goal of his with the coaching staff.
It’s simple: focus on giving the program’s 150-plus players the best season they can possibly have.
After a tumultuous 16-month stretch since their last game, the Trevians are ready to take the field for an abbreviated six-game 2021 season taking place in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s just all smiles for everyone (being back out there),” Doll said. “There’s that satisfaction of being around everyone and the camaraderie of the team, and it’s a special time of the year to do this.
“ … It’s hard right now with all the different things going on, with rules and changes and everything, but to see what these kids have overcome and how they have adjusted and the resilience behind them, and to now get the prize of seeing them play and being happy, it’s been awesome.”
While elation and excitement abound, New Trier also enters the year with another goal — winning the Central Suburban League South.
“We’re a competitive school and a competitive conference, and we want to win our conference championship,” Doll said. “Without a state tournament, you essentially have to win these first five games to be conference champion.”
The Trevians will look to bounce back after an abnormal 2019 season, in when at 4-5 they missed the playoffs for the first time in 16 seasons.
That team relied heavily on first-year starters on both sides of the ball. Although struggles were present, Doll believes it was valuable experience that will pay dividends this season.
“I think we have a really strong nucleus of returning seniors and players,” Doll said.
7 p.m. Friday, March 19, host Glenbrook South
7 p.m. Friday, March 26, at Niles West
2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3, host Evanston
7 p.m. Friday, April 9, at Glenbrook North
7 p.m. Friday, April 16, at Maine South
TBD: “Bowl game” against CSL North opponent
New Trier’s offense will be led by junior quarterback Nevan Cremascoli, who saw time under center for the Trevians in 2019.
Doll said Cremascoli returns this year as a player who’s matured into a “physical presence” and mentally has a stronger understanding of the game.
“He’ll be fun to watch as he plays this year,” Doll said. “He really spent his 18-month offseason getting stronger, faster, developing his arm strength and working with a lot of private quarterback trainers. He looks really good and I’m happy with how he’s moved along in his development.”
The Trevs will rely on senior stalwart Brody Roth to lead their rushing attack. Roth showed signs of a breakout season in 2019 before suffering an injury that forced him to hold back, Doll said.
“He historically has been a great running back for our football program and someone we believe will be a really good player for us,” he said.
Senior Tyler Hardin and junior Alex Mendes highlight the wide receiver corps, and New Trier will look to the duo of playmakers to help lead the offense and produce explosive plays.
Tight end Finn Cohan, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound junior, will debut at the varsity level for the Trevs with lofty expectations from the coaching staff.
“He’s a pretty special football player,” Doll said. “We’re going to look to do some good things with him this year, even with the shortened season I can see him being a weapon that we utilize and he’ll be fun to watch.”
New Trier will be without one of the most talented players in program history this season, David Davidkov, who graduated early and started his football and academic career at the University of Iowa in January, as first reported by The Record.
It will be no easy task replicating his production, but Luc Elias and Jesse Mendoza, a pair of skilled junior linemen, are expected to step up in Davidkov’s absence.
A defensive unit that lacked experience in 2019 now heads into 2021 primed with senior personnel, talent and speed.
New Trier will bring back nine defensive starters from a season ago, Doll said, adding that the team has anchors at each level of the defense.
Luca Wojewski and Charlie Zieziula are two key contributors on the defensive line.
The Trevians’ linebacking group is led by seniors Max Dancey and Roth, one of the three players currently slated to play both sides of the ball.
One of the group’s strongpoints will be the defensive backfield where returning safeties Hardin and Ryan Rittner will give New Trier one of the strongest tandems Doll has ever had.
“We have great depth in the defensive backfield; we’re really very blessed there this year,” he said. “It’s a strength of ours.”
The Trevs have Mendes and Luke Stewart penciled in at the cornerback position.
Special teams play has been a priority for New Trier this offseason because of the unorthodox scheduling. But overall, Doll has high hopes for this phase of the game.
In addition to his play on both offense and defense, Mendes is expected to return kicks and punts.
His all-around talent is already creating quite the buzz.
“He’s one of the best (returners) I’ve seen, even though he’s a junior,” Doll said. “He just catches the ball and makes things happen. He is very elusive and his speed definitely helps in the return situation.”
Junior Peter Frame will man the kicker and punter positions for the Trevs, and Doll feels confident he’s up to the task.
What lies ahead
New Trier will open its 2021 campaign in Northfield against CSL South rival Glenbrook South, which topped the Trevs in a close 2019 matchup.
An equally senior-heavy Titans’ roster will present a tough Week 1 opponent.
“They’re a very physical team,” Doll said. “We have a lot of respect for their size; they’re going to be significantly bigger than us up front and we know that. They do have some returning offensive line starters and some other key positions, like quarterback, coming back.
“ … It’s really a tough first week matchup for us. They do a lot of things well that we feel we do well so you’re kind of looking at some mirrored images. Our defenses are both very fast, very aggressive. Their offensive line is a bigger group than probably anyone else we’ll see the whole season. I don’t think even Maine South will be as big as GBS this year. They’ll probably be the biggest team we’ll see this year and we’re seeing them in Week 1 but we need to utilize the things we’re good at like our speed to kind of neutralize that.”
Games against Niles West, Evanston, Glenbrook North, Maine South and a CSL crossover will follow.
In addition to its conference-championship aspirations, New Trier is focused on staying healthy and playing all six games this year.
“We just want to give kids the opportunity to play in six competitive atmospheres and enjoy their senior year or their first varsity experience,” Doll said.
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.