Photos by Jeff Vorva
Brother Rice quarterback Cam Miller has thrown for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Crusaders’ first two victories over quality programs.
Brother Rice’s football team was shut out of state and Chicago area preseason polls.
And nationally, Athlon Sports’ Ryan Swartz called the Catholic League Blue conference one of the top 10 in the nation but predicted the Crusaders would be “down” this year.
The Crusaders tried to make a statement on the field by going up 42-0 and hanging on for a 56-20 home victory over Brother Rice of Michigan, a program with an all-time winning percentage (.753) that is ranked in the top five in Michigan. And the Warriors brought 10 state championship trophies back to their school.
Still, there was no love from the polls.
The players and coaches claim not to pay attention to rankings but the Crusaders made another statement on Friday night with a 49-21 road victory over Crete-Monee, a team that was 77-27 in the past nine years with a Class 6A title in 2012.
These aren’t some sub-par Chicago Public League teams the Crusaders are kicking around, yet they are having trouble finding anyone from outside the South Suburbs to buy in just yet.
The team can change that when it visits Loyola at 1:30 p.m. to open Catholic League Blue play. Loyola was ranked second in the state in the Associated Press Class 8A poll last week. In 2014, Brother Rice beat Loyola, 16-13 during the regular season in Chicago and the Ramblers returned the favor with 31-14 triumph in the Catholic League championship in November.
The mantra around South Pulaski Road is that the polls are useless – especially this time of year.
“We don’t worry about that stuff -- we just move full steam ahead,” Rice coach Brian Badke said. “It doesn’t matter what’s at the beginning, it’s where you are at the end. The kids know that. We have our goals that we want to obtain and we’re always focusing on that.
“None of these guys read the newspapers anyway.’’
Assuming that some do, they will see that their new signal caller, senior Cam Miller of Evergreen Park is racking up some big numbers. Through his first two varsity starts, Miller has thrown for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Like his coach, Miller quickly dismissed talk about being ignored by the pollsters.
“Rankings don’t mean anything to us – we’ll just play our game and hopefully get the wins,’’ he said.
Miller got two looks at Loyola last year from the sideline and is ready for the challenge.
“Loyola probably has the best defense we will play all season,” Miller said. “They are so fundamentally sound. We’ll have to work hard and hopefully they won’t be able to cover all of us.’’
One of his favorite targets for big plays is Ricky Smalling who has 16 catches for 293 yards and five touchdowns. Branden Houston and Julian Blain are also dangerous receivers and when the Crusaders get tired of throwing the ball, Clifton Taylor can chomp up a few yards.
“It’s unreal how we’re playing – not only just the offense but the defense is playing well, too. Everything is clicking,’’ Miller said. “It’s electric – it’s so much fun.”
Badke wants his team to play four quarters of strong football and wants a tighter defense against Loyola.
“We just don’t want to take our foot off the accelerator,” Badke said. “I felt we came in focused and scored 21 points off the bat (against Crete). But we took our foot off the accelerator. We can’t do that. The kids know that. We have a big test coming up on the road.’’