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Energized Carmel ready to battle.

Byline: Bill McLean Daily Herald Correspondent

Blake Annen played football at Upper Arlington (Ohio) High School and at the University of Cincinnati before beginning a two-season stint with Chicago's NFL team in 2014.

The team nickname at each stop: Golden Bears, Bearcats, Bears.

"My parents pointed that out to me when I played for the Bears," said Annen, a former tight end who coaches football at Carmel Catholic, located only eight miles from Lake Zurich home of another squad of Bears.

One of the Corsairs' six captains, senior middle linebacker Danny Graunke, grew up in Lake Zurich and truly appreciates the opportunities that come with having a former Chicago Bear guide him at the prep level.

"The energy he brings to each practice, it's the best," the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Graunke said of Annen, only 28 years old and Carmel Catholic's second-year grid boss. "Coach takes charge, emphasizes togetherness. He also takes snaps in practice and does such a good job of showing us, teaching us.

"You have to like it," Graunke added, "when a coach with NFL experience is out there with you and motivating you."

A pair of former Chicago Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox and fullback Jason McKie serve as Corsairs assistants. Yet another ex-Bear, cornerback Nathan Vasher, was a Carmel Catholic football assistant last fall; he was hired to coach cornerbacks at his alma mater, the University of Texas.

Annen welcomed back starting cornerbacks Brock Deardorff, a 6-2, 185-pound senior, and Jalen Burton, a 6-1, 185-pound junior, into the fold. Graduation 2019 erased most of Carmel Catholic's defensive linemen after the 2018 season (4-5).

"It'll be interesting, as well as exciting, to see how our D-linemen embrace their roles this year," said Annen, whose second crew at the Mundelein school begins play in the new, four-team Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference (Purple Division) this fall.

Purple's other schools: St. Viator, St. Patrick, Marian Central Catholic.

Among the Corsairs' top returners on offense is junior running back Syone Usma-Harper, a 6-1, 190-pounder who rushed for 13 of his 15 touchdowns in conference games last year and earned all-ESCC honors despite not getting his first start until Week 5.

Vying for the nod at quarterback are junior Avery Bugaj (6-2, 180) and sophomore Aidan Lucero (6-1, 195).

Annen announced team captains, voted by players only, after practice on Aug. 20. The other five, in addition to Graunke: senior OL/DL Sean Bates (6-1, 220); senior WR/DB Mitchell Geier (5-11, 180); senior TE/DE Connor Jones (6-1, 215); senior RB/WR/kick returner Jermaine Moore (6-0, 180); and senior LB Omar Quiroz-Jasso (6-0, 205).

Carmel opens its season against visiting Libertyville (2-7 in '18) on Aug. 30 (7:30 p.m.). The schools located a few prodigious punts apart last met in 2010 in Week 2, with visiting Carmel Catholic winning 55-27 en route to a 10-2 record.

"We're excited about the game, about competing against a school that's so close to ours," Annen said of The Battle of Rte. 176.' "I heard the schools used to play against each other in football a lot."

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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:McLean, By Bill
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Aug 30, 2019
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