Marist senior quarterback Mike Markett completed 69 percent of his pass attempts for 2,115 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2017. Photo by Jason Maholy
RedHawks open at Brother Rice to highlight Week 1 action
CONFERENCE: Chicago Catholic League Blue
HEAD COACH: Brian Badke
2017 RECORD: 2-7
POSTSEASON: The Crusaders failed to qualify for the IHSA playoffs for the first time since 2013.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Brother Rice topped the 50-point mark in each of its two wins, routing Aurora Christian 55-16 and rolling to a 56-0 victory over St. Joseph.
2018 OUTLOOK: With nine starters returning on offense and five more on defense, the Crusaders are looking for a quick turnaround following their first season with two wins or fewer since 2001.
Badke is optimistic Rice will rebound.
“We have a number of returning starters with a lot of experience,” he said. “If we can stay healthy and continue to improve as a team week to week we are going to have great season.”
Senior quarterback John Bean returns and is surrounded by a host of skill players with varsity experience, including senior running back Jessie Plunkett, senior receivers Anthony Arquilla and Trey Gladney, and senior tight end David O’Keefe.
Senior receiver Dylan Summers is also a big threat in the kick return game, while junior receiver/returner Jahlil Pettis is another player with big-play capabilities.
The Crusaders are also veteran-heavy in the trenches, led by senior offensive linemen Danny Conners, Danny Sullivan and Evan Kirts.
On the defensive side, senior tackle Zach Wareyko and senior end Jalen Rheams anchor the line.
Junior Justin Jefferson is a newcomer to watch on the defensive line.
“Our experience on the offensive and defensive lines is going to be our biggest strength,” Badke said.
Senior Joe Fitzgerald leads the linebacking corps, while seniors Richard Seavers and Jayshon Means will be counted on heavily in the secondary.
Junior Giacomo Iraci could contribute both as a kicker and at defensive back.
Despite the struggles in 2017, expectations remain high.
“Our goal is to get back to our winning ways and compete for a (Catholic League Blue) title and a state title,” Badke said.
CONFERENCE: Metro Suburban Red
HEAD COACH: Nick Cook
2017 RECORD: 4-5
POSTSEASON: Chicago Christian failed to qualify for the IHSA playoffs for the 10th straight season.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: The Knights averaged 51 points in their two conference wins, a 54-24 triumph over Walther Christian and a 48-0 rout of Guerin in the season finale.
2018 OUTLOOK: If Chicago Christian is going to break through and make the playoffs, senior playmaker Jonathan Griffin will need to have another big season.
Griffin is the reigning Metro Suburban Red Player of the Year and a big-play threat both at receiver and defensive back. He piled up 1,122 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns last year and is a potential high-major recruit.
“Jonathan has great potential to have a breakout year leading our team,” Cook said.
The question of who will be throwing Griffin the ball is still unanswered as juniors Danny Bulthuis and Jeff Smith were competing for the quarterback job in preseason camp. Both players could also contribute on the other side of the ball, Smith at defensive end and Bulthuis at defensive back.
Clark Fremow, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound senior, anchors the offensive and defensive lines for the Knights, while senior Casey Starostka will also be a major part of both lines, and will likely see some time at linebacker.
Tight end/linebacker Jacob Paluch, running back/defensive back Desmond Rodgers, and running back/linebacker Josh Purnell are seniors who are strong two-way players.
Cook expects the senior leadership to be key to the Knights’ success.
“We have more seniors than in my first three years at Chicago Christian and this is the first group of seniors who have played in our current team culture from ninth grade through 12th grade,” Cook said. “We are hopeful that their commitment to our core values and our way of doing football will thrive and lead our team to new growth and heights.”
CONFERENCE: South Suburban Red
HEAD COACH: Jerry Verde
2017 RECORD: 3-6
POSTSEASON: The Mustangs failed to qualify for the IHSA playoffs for the third straight season.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Evergreen Park snapped an eight-game South Suburban Red conference losing streak, dating back to 2016, with a 49-24 home victory over Oak Lawn in Week 8.
2018 OUTLOOK: The Mustangs will rely heavily on their veteran experience along the lines, looking to the big boys up front to lead the way.
Senior Jamal Brothers anchors the offensive line along with senior Reggie Bracken, who’s also a standout on the defensive side. Bracken is the younger half-brother of Eric Williams, Evergreen Park’s top running back in 2016.
Linebackers Karlton Carpenter and Eli Bartos are also experienced seniors who will need to step up.
“We have some quality seniors that will have to be leaders in order for us to have success,” Verde said. “We will be young and inexperienced in many spots this season.”
Verde is excited to see what junior quarterback Jack Manso can do with a season under his belt after he was thrown into the fire as a sophomore.
“Manso is a second-year starter after a sophomore season of survival,” Verde said.
Senior running back Myron Harris will look to take some of the heat off Manso.
Evergreen Park hopes to get off to another fast start after winning its first two games in each of the last two seasons. The Mustangs open with Leo (3-6 last season) and CICS-Longwood (4-5) before entering league play.
Now in his third season at Evergreen Park, Verde is pleased with the enthusiasm that has been generated within the program, including at the lower levels, and excited about future contributions from young players.
“We believe we are turning a corner with reinvigorating interest in the football program for incoming students,” he said.
REDHAWKS AT A GLANCE
CONFERENCE: East Suburban Catholic
HEAD COACH: Ron Dawczak
2017 RECORD: 11-1
POSTSEASON: The RedHawks routed Oak Park-River Forest 44-0 in the first round of the IHSA Class 8A playoffs and beat Curie 37-14 in the second round before falling 30-10 to Loyola in the quarterfinals.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Marist’s 23-14 win over rival Brother Rice in its season opener was its closest game of the regular season. The RedHawks rolled to a 9-0 record, beating opponents by an average of 31 points.
2018 OUTLOOK: After the Ron Dawczak era got off to a massively successful start in 2017, Marist will look to keep its momentum going with 13 starters returning.
Senior dual threat Mike Markett returns at quarterback and has a pair of proven, big-play receivers in senior Billy Skalitzky and junior Jadon Thompson.
“(Markett’s) ability to beat teams passing or running makes him a tough matchup for defenses,” Dawczak said. “Skalitzky has tremendous run-after-catch ability and Thompson possesses both size and speed and is a dangerous downfield threat.”
Seniors Denny Hogan and Declan Ryan also figure to contribute as receivers, while senior Jahlen Williams steps in at running back. Seniors George Fanelli and Frank Sheehan anchor the offensive line.
Defensively, Marist has an experienced secondary with seniors Charlie Laurencell, Kendric Nowling, Jimmy Porter and Nile Hill all returning as starters.
Senior Jake Duerr and junior Colin Bohanek are also back among the linebacking corps. Senior defensive tackle Caleb Burrell leads the linemen.
“(Burrell) is extremely powerful and should be an anchor against the run,” Dawczak said. “Duerr possesses an innate ability to find the ball, Charlie’s high football IQ allows him to stay a step aside of opposing players, while Nowling’s speed and power make him a force against the pass and run.”
Marist has its sights set on a deep playoff run. Dawczak said a state championship is the goal.
“My goal is to motivate the team to continue getting better with each passing day,” he said. “This group is eager to put in the hard work necessary to have a successful season.”
CONFERENCE: South Suburban Red
HEAD COACH: Nick Novak
2017 RECORD: 4-5
POSTSEASON: The Spartans failed to qualify for the IHSA playoffs for the eighth straight season.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Oak Lawn rolled past Reavis in surprisingly easy fashion in week seven, winning 41-7. The Spartans' other conference victory was a 27-6 win over Argo.
2018 OUTLOOK: Last season’s 4-5 finish marked a step in the right direction for Oak Lawn, its first four-win season since 2011.
The task now is to take the next step and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
The first three weeks of the season will be key for the Spartans, who will take on Marian Catholic (0-9 in 2017), Thornwood (0-9) and Argo (1-8) before a major test against crosstown rival Richards in week four.
“We need to start the season in the best way possible,” Novak said. “If we can start out well, we believe we will end our playoff drought. Ending that eight-year drought is definitely the biggest goal for us.”
Senior running back Nick Puente, who ran for 973 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017, is back to lead the Oak Lawn offense. Novak expects him to top the 1,000-yard mark this season.
“Nick is a hard runner,” Novak said. “He’s tough to bring down.”
Junior Chris Gallagher is expected to step in at quarterback. Look for him to target junior receivers Jordan Sprycha and Kevin Swatek often.
“Swatek is a crisp route-runner with great hands,” Novak said.
Novak called senior linebacker Nico Uriarte the leader of the Spartans’ defense. Junior Jaime Marinez also returns in the linebacking corps, while senior defensive ends Jalan Gaines and Antonio Garza anchor the line.
Marinez will also see time at receiver.
Senior Darien Wair returns to lead the secondary, and sophomore safety Grey Jacklin-Brown is a player to watch.
CONFERENCE: South Suburban Red
HEAD COACH: Tony Sheehan
2017 RECORD: 7-3
POSTSEASON: The Bulldogs lost 31-12 to Providence in the first round of the IHSA Class 6A playoffs. It was Richards’ ninth straight postseason appearance.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Richards’ first South Suburban Red win proved to be its biggest, a 27-21 victory over Shepard. The Bulldogs won their remaining five Red games by an average of 36 points to capture their ninth conference championship in 12 years.
2018 OUTLOOK: Sheehan will have opportunities to get create offensively with two returning starting quarterbacks at his disposal.
Senior Sebastian Castro, an Iowa recruit as a safety, is back after succeeding at quarterback in 2017 for the Bulldogs. Meanwhile, senior Marquel Porter transferred in after starting at quarterback for Shepard last season.
With Porter’s addition, Sheehan is open to using the versatile Castro at running back and/or receiver at times.
Whoever is taking the snaps will have also have options in the passing game, with senior receivers Mark Christian and Cody Dryier returning as starters. Senior Walter Riley is also back in the mix and expected to have a big impact after recovering from a torn ACL that sidelined him in 2017.
Junior Leshon Williams is another returning starter at running back. Seniors Ahmad Suleiman and Hamilton Knox, and junior Jalen Lee anchor the offensive line.
Defensively, Castro and Riley will lead the secondary, while seniors Danny Jackson and Eldridge Dockery give the Bulldogs a pair of playmaking defensive ends. Seniors Chris Madjecki and Trevon Jones, and juniors Albert Jones and Kesean Terry will be counted on at linebacker.
“We have a lot of talent coming back and we like the new talent we have coming up,” Sheehan said. “Like every year, we need guys to grow up fast and contribute.”
Richards will be tested right away, taking on Lincoln-Way Central (10-2 last season) and St. Rita (9-3) in its first two games.
“We are looking forward to seeing how good we are in weeks one and two,” Sheehan said.
CONFERENCE: SOUTHWEST SUBURBAN
HEAD COACH: Scott Peters
2017 RECORD: 3-6
POSTSEASON: Sandburg failed to qualify for the IHSA playoffs for the second straight season.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: The Eagles helped spoil District 230 rival Stagg’s playoffs hopes with a 35-21 win over the Chargers. They also topped a nine-win Curie team, 23-20.
2018 OUTLOOK: With eight starters returning, Sandburg looks to qualify for the postseason for the first time under Peters, who begins his third season.
The Eagles’ biggest addition is a player who’s already been on the roster. Senior quarterback Ben Starcevich is back after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 2 last year.
“It was a huge loss,” Peters said. “We truly never recovered from losing our starting quarterback.”
Expect Starcevich to connect often with senior receiver Tyler Villa, a go-to target in the slot. Senior Andrew Schab is a returning starter at running back who will factor into the passing game.
Senior Ricky Maziarka and junior Chase Bowden are receivers to watch.
Defensively, Sandburg is led by senior linebacker Alex Hirschfield, a three-year starter.
“He was one of the top linebackers in the conference as a junior last year and we’re expecting him to continue his three-year upward climb,” Peters said. “We’re counting on his leadership.”
Linebacker Mo Abuzir, defensive tackle Hamza Ismail, and defensive backs Mark Fassler and Josh Heavrin are also senior returning starters.
Villa will also contribute on the defensive side at linebacker.
Sandburg will take on one of the most challenging schedules in the state. Its nine opponents, including seven 2017 playoff qualifiers, went a combined 73-27 last year.
“We know we don’t have an easy game on our schedule and we have to compete every week,” Peters said. “Our message to the kids will be consistent: Work every day, get better every day and compete every day.”
CONFERENCE: South Suburban Red
HEAD COACH: John Rone
2017 RECORD: 8-2
POSTSEASON: The Astros lost 34-7 to Marmion in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs. It was Shepard’s third consecutive playoff appearance.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Marquel Porter hit Nieko Carter on a 39-yard touchdown pass with just 21.5 seconds remaining to lift the Astros to a 21-18 road victory over a Hillcrest team that went on to win nine games.
2018 OUTLOOK: Rone, previously a varsity assistant and sophomore head coach at Eisenhower, looks to continue Shepard’s success in his first season leading a program.
Senior Rishard Blake, who started at quarterback for the first three games of 2017 before being moved to receiver, is back under center after Porter transferred to Richards.
He has a couple of proven options to work with in senior receiver Chris Harrison and senior tight end Kevin Graham, while senior receiver Yousef Isa is expected to emerge as another big target.
Seniors Bobby Quick, Damekeo Maurry and Christian Ramirez anchor the offensive line.
Harrison will also be a major factor on the defensive side of the ball as a linebacker.
“(Harrison) has a great combination if size and athleticism,” Rone said.
Graham will also be a part of the linebacking core, while Maurry leads the defensive line.
Seniors Korey Burrell and Demarco Washington are returning starters in the secondary.
Rone believes the Astros have enough talent to do big things.
“Our goals are to win a conference championship and progress deep into the playoffs,” he said.
To do that, Rone said his players will have to have the right mindset.
“The biggest thing is trying to improve our mental toughness,” he said. “If we’re mentally tough, we can overcome a lot of things.
“We believe we have talent and we’re on the upswing. To be able improve on the foundation we’ve established, we just want to be able to fight through adversity to take it up a level.”
CONFERENCE: SouthWest Suburban
HEAD COACH: Brian Berg
2017 RECORD: 4-5
POSTSEASON: Stagg failed to qualify for the IHSA playoffs for the 12th consecutive season.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: The Chargers started 4-1, including a pair of conference wins, 36-18 over Thornwood and 55-30 over Thornridge.
2018 OUTLOOK: Stagg’s last three coaches have failed to take the Chargers to the playoffs during their tenures. Berg, the team’s offensive coordinator the last three seasons, will try to break that dry spell.
The Chargers averaged 29 points a game last year with Berg running the offense, but will have to replace quarterback Kyle Neputy, who’s now at Cornell.
The quarterback spot is still up for grabs, but Neputy’s successor will have a solid foundation around him, including three returning starters on the offensive line: seniors Rolando Shalor and Lukas Venckus and junior Tommy Doyle.
Senior wide receivers Mike Warfield and Devion Williams will be major weapons in the passing game, while senior fullback Dan Green can pound out some tough yards on the ground.
Green is also a returning starter defensively at linebacker.
“(Green) is a physical, hard-nosed, old school football player,” Berg said.
Senior running back/linebacker/defensive back Reide Modiest is an active defender whom Berg said has a “non-stop motor.” Senior Tyler Winkelman is a returning starter on the defensive line, along with junior Bartek Mrowca.
Among others to watch are several two-way players, including three who figure to see time at both receiver and defensive back: senior Nick Harper, junior Donnie Hansen and sophomore Steven Reed.
Juniors Mitch Dollah and Gabe Zanella look to make an impact at both linebacker and tight end.
After finishing last season with four straight losses, including a heartbreaking 28-27 defeat to Moline in the finale, Stagg is hungry to win in 2018.
“The kids got a taste of what success is like early last year,” Berg said. “They definitely want more of it.”
CONFERENCE: Chicago Catholic League Green
HEAD COACH: Harold Blackmon
2017 RECORD: 8-4
POSTSEASON: The Vikings beat Quincy 48-28 and Hinsdale South 32-16 in the first two rounds of the IHSA Class 6A playoffs before falling 49-24 to Providence in the quarterfinals.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: St. Laurence handed IC Catholic its only loss of the season, 26-23. IC went on to win the Class 3A state title.
2018 OUTLOOK: St. Laurence has established itself as a perennial power under Blackmon, who enters his seventh season. The Vikings have made the playoffs four straight years for the first time since they reeled off five straight postseason appearances between 1983-87.
This year, though, St. Laurence will have to reload quickly to keep the success going.
First off, the Vikings must replace do-everything running back Tori Clinton, who ran for 2,577 yards and 27 touchdowns last season.
Quarterback Devon Rembis also graduated.
While St. Laurence looks for new stars to emerge at the skill positions, the Vikings will lean on an experienced offensive line led by senior guards Jerrell Carey and Kyle Ecker, senior tackle Colby Taylor and junior center Myron Lewis.
Junior Miles Scott returns at receiver, while senior Kendall Spearment, a standout safety last year, should factor into the offense more as well.
The Vikings are big and experienced on the defensive line with Lewis and senior Logan Cleary clogging up the middle of the field at tackle.
The Vikings have a consistent kicker in senior Liam McCarthy.
“We’ve got a lot of energetic seniors who are excited to step up for us,” Blackmon said.
Though many of the faces will be new, the goals remain the same for the Vikings.
“We want to win our conference and advance as far as possible in the state playoffs,” Blackmon said. “The key for us will be team chemistry.”
Blackmon also added a coaching legend to his staff as Frank Lenti, who won 11 state championships at Mount Carmel, joined St. Laurence as a special adviser.
ST. XAVIER UNIVERSITY
CONFERENCE: Mid-States Football Association Midwest League
HEAD COACH: Mike Feminis
2017 RECORD: 10-2
POSTSEASON: The Cougars beat Grand View 39-23 at home in the first round of the NAIA Championship Series playoffs, then fell on the road to Morningside, 52-7, in the quarterfinals.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Coming off a disappointing 5-6 season in 2016, St. Xavier showed it was back by beating fifth-ranked Marian 32-27 in its season opener at home. The Cougars went 7-0 at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Mount Greenwood.
2018 OUTLOOK: Feminis said the Cougars “got our swagger back” with last season’s resurgence. With a strong core of returning players on both sides of the ball, they’ll have a chance to be even better this year.
St. Laurence graduate Alex Martinez and Justin Hunniford split time at quarterback last season until an injury to Hunniford paved the way for Martinez to start the final six games.
Both should see time under center again this year.
“The way I look at it, we have two starting quarterbacks,” Feminis said. “I feel like we could win a national championship with either one, so they’ll both play. It’s a good problem to have.”
The Cougars return their top two receivers, juniors Nick Czeszewski and Harold Davis, while junior Chris Simmons was also a key contributor in the passing game last year.
St. Xavier will have to replace leading rusher Mike Ivlow, but junior Jamarri Watson has experience. Freshmen Vance McShane, Danquis Smith and Eric Williams Jr. (Evergreen Park) could also see time at running back.
Junior Michael Ribando, and sophomores Anthony Saro, John Ivlow and Bruce Mesa are all returning starters on the offensive line.
The Cougars are led defensively by an experienced linebacking corps, including senior Omar Salazar, juniors Khristian Lett and Joe Cosenza (Oak Lawn), and sophomores Josh Hettiger (Richards) and Danny Saracco.
Senior Tim Walsh (Evergreen Park) and Glen Smith III, and juniors Trevon Anderson and Tionte McDaniel anchor the secondary, while senior Dmitri Joe is the lone returning starter on the defensive line.