Top 10 wide receivers and tight ends to watch in Rockford-area football

North Boone's Will Doetch breaks away for a touchdown against Mendota in the first half of their game at North Boone High School Friday, March 26, 2021, in Poplar Grove.
Matt Trowbridge Jay Taft
Rockford Register Star

The Illinois High School Association football season is just two weeks away, and the Rockford Register Star's preseason coverage of the area teams is here.

Leading up to the Aug. 27 season-opening kickoff, we will not only take a look at the best teams from the NIC-10, Big Northern, NUIC and 8-man football, but we will also take a position-by-position look at the top players to watch in the entire area.

So far, we have spotlighted quarterbacks, running backs and defensive backs. Today, we continue our series by spotlighting wide receivers and tight ends. In alphabetical order, here are 10 pass catchers to watch from the Rockford area heading into the fall football season:

Large schools

Dedric Macon, Freeport

He is a key part of the Pretzels’ talented sophomore class. He caught two passes for 39 yards as a freshman and rushed 11 times for 45 yards.

“We are looking for him to explode this year,” Freeport coach Anthony Dedmond said. “He has everything: the speed, the jumping ability, the competitiveness. He is also an excellent basketball player.”

Fall sports:What readers should expect from Rockford Register Star's high school sports coverage

Daquavion Oaks, Auburn

The 6-foot, 180-pound senior is a three-way player who made his biggest impact on defense last year, when he was one of four junior first-team all-conference defensive backs. Auburn coach JP Toldo expects him to make just as big of an impact this year returning kicks and catching passes as playing defense. While most of the NIC-10 defensive stars were young last year, only two of 17 first-teamers on offense — both linemen — return.

“We’re real excited for him to come back and be a leader on our team,” Toldo said of Oaks, who will be a three-year starter. “He’s got great hand-eye coordination. He’s a long, athletic kid with great quickness. We’re going to use him in as many ways as we can and get him the ball as much as we can. He will be all over the place.”

Cody Neiber and Chase Kemmett, Hononegah

Hononegah could have one of the tallest wide receiver pairs in league history with 6-foot-5 junior Neiber and 6-foot-4 junior Kemmett leading a pass catching core that also includes veteran defensive stars Bryce Goodwine and Dylan Sayles.

"We're hoping we can put the ball up higher and they can grab it," Hononegah coach Brian Zimmerman said. "Chase is a really good possession receiver over the middle. He's not afraid to take some licks when he gets the ball. And Cody can really go over the top of somebody."

Mahari Taylor, Harlem

The Harlem trio of Dominic McCarren, Dezzion Jordan and Lezerrick Ishmon caught 105 passes for 1,574 yards last year. No one else in the league had more than 14 receptions. Harlem must replace all three, as well as star quarterback James Cooper, Jr., but expects to keep on throwing. Harlem coach Bob Moynihan has many contenders to choose from, but junior Mahari Taylor is perhaps the most likely to break out the way McCarren and Jordan did.

"Mahari will make you think of other people we've had," Moyhnihan said, "but we have nine receivers who are pretty good. Some can take the top off and some are route runners."

Circle the dates:Here are 5 football matchups you won't want to miss this fall in the Rock River Valley

Aaron Winters, Belvidere North

Only East throws fewer passes in the NIC-10 than Belvidere North, but when the Thunder do throw, it can often be a game-changing completion to their tight end. Winters, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior who also plays middle linebacker, ranked ninth in the conference with 109 receiving yards as a junior. That was on only three catches, easily leading the league with a 36.3-yard average.

“Our tight ends factor into our run game a ton,” North coach Jeff Beck said. “That’s what makes them so dangerous in the passing game; they block linebackers and safeties in the box and then slip right past them for some of those play-action plays.

"He’s a big target and a long kid. He’s a good rebounder for North’s basketball team. If you put the ball up near him, he has a good chance of making an adjustment and coming down with it.”

Small schools

Du/Pec's Drake Fortson and Trent Hetland celebrates a touchdown on Saturday, March 20, 2021, at Auburn High School.

Cole Becker, Forreston

The senior was a second-team, all-conference tight end in the NUIC last season, and now he's bigger, stronger, and ready to fill a bigger role. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder is also a standout linebacker, but it could be his offensive contributions that stand out.

"He's a tremendous leader," Forreston coach Keynon Janicke said.

Will Doetch, North Boone

The senior was a key cog to North Boone's aerial attack last season, averaging almost 27 yards per catch, with 20 grabs for 533 yards and 10 touchdowns in four games. With a first-year starter coming in at quarterback, Doetch's skills and leadership will be even more important this year.

"He's unbelievable," Stillman Valley coach Mike Lalor said of Doetch. "He's just got a ton of skill in a lot of different areas, and he's tough to stop."

'It's overwhelming':Hononegah football rallies for coach Andy Trice during cancer battle

Tug Dornink, Dakota

The junior was a star for the frosh-soph team last year, and was about to make the leap to varsity when Dakota's season got shut down due to COVID-19. Now he has grown to 6-foot-3, and was a member of Dakota's state-placing 400- and 800-meter relay teams, proving he has breakaway speed as well.

"I think Tug is going to be a big matchup problem for teams," Dakota coach Joe Free said. " He has exceptional hands and we've changed a lot of what we do to get the ball in his hands in the pass game to use his speed and size against teams.

Trent Hetland, Durand/Pecatonica

With QB Hunter Hoffman heading into his senior season, the Rivermen are sure to be looking to air it out a lot this year. Trent Hetland is the best bet to come away with a large chunk of the receptions and yards for Durand/Pecatonica.

Du/Pec coach Tyler Hoffman calls Hetland an "absolute stud" at wide receiver, who has "great size, hands, and speed. A matchup nightmare for DBs."

Du/Pec's top two wideouts Gabe Howard and Tre Stifter graduated, but Hetland had 24 catches for 266 yards with a pair of TDs last year, and those numbers will grow.

Brody Mahon, Lena-Winslow

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Brody Mahon is going to be a big part of Le-Win's offensive attack this season, and the Panthers just may opt to throw it more this season.

Mahon and third-year starter at QB Luke Benson have very good chemistry.

"We're going to need guys like Brody to step up for us," Le-Win coach Ric Arand said.

Jay Taft:; @jaytaft

Matt Trowbridge:; @matttrowbridge