St. Francis coach Greg Purnell clearly states what's required to win the powerful Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division.
"You've got to beat the three 'M's'. What more is there to say?"
We'll give it a shot. The teams Purnell alludes to are Montini, Marmion and Marian Central.
Montini is the two-time defending Class 5A state champion and defending SCC Blue winner, while Marmion reached its first state title game in 2010, losing to Rockford Boylan. Marian Central is just dang tough, as coach Ed Brucker gets as much out of his small band of physical players as anyone.
"Montini's head and shoulders with the two transfers," Marmion coach Dan Thorpe said of the Broncos' 300-pound defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, an Iowa recruit who transferred from St. Joseph; and John Rhode, Marian Catholic's two-year starting quarterback who'll play in Lombard for his senior year.
Thorpe has his program on a roll and returns stalwarts such as two-way lineman Ryan Glasgow plus five other defensive starters. The Cadets lost last year's conference title at Montini in overtime.
Due to the two players Thorpe cited and many others, Montini is the prohibitive favorite to win the SCC Blue, which this season welcomes Wheaton Academy and defending Gold winner St. Edward in exchange for Aurora Central and Walther Lutheran.
Rhode will not only have returning receivers Joey Borsellino and college prospect Anthony Taylor to target, but the main man, Nebraska-bound all-stater Jordan Westerkamp, last year's Blue co-offensive player of the year with Marmion's T.J. Lally.
The 200-pound wideout with a 40-inch vertical leap broke his own father Bob's single-season program records for receptions, receiving yardage and touchdown grabs, including 3 in Montini's 5A title win over Chatham Glenwood.
Montini returns just one defensive starter, linebacker Franklin Bruscianelli, and Broncos coach Chris Andriano seeks line depth. What figures to be a high-powered offense and Montini's star power should prevail.
"There's going to be some wars again this year," Andriano said of the Blue, which looks stacked with solid linemen like Glasgow, Johnson, St. Francis' highly regarded junior Kyle Bosch, St. Edward's Evan Finnane and Marian Central's Scott Taylor.
"Francis is going to be very tough, Marmion's arrived, Marian -- any one of those four teams (with Montini) could make deep runs in the playoffs," said Andriano, fortunate to have survived last year's first-round game with St. Francis.
In the SCC Gold Aurora Central could make a bid for its first playoff berth since 1997, and new Immaculate Conception coach Chris VanDyke will be bolstered by juniors from an eight-win sophomore squad in 2010.
Aurora Christian, however, enters as the team to beat, returning a bevy of starters from last season's Class 3A quarterfinalist. The Eagles went only 1-4 last year playing in the SCC Blue but beat St. Edward in a crossover and clubbed Immaculate Conception 40-14.
Quarterback Anthony Maddie, who has committed to play for Western Michigan, returns for his second season under coach Don Beebe after transferring from Joliet Catholic. The wily Maddie, who accounted for 30 touchdowns last fall, will be given the opportunity to run for 1,000 yards and pass for more than 2,000.
Aurora Christian opens with nonconference toughie Stillman Valley, retains Montini and St. Edward on its schedule and concludes the regular season playing Aurora Central for the first time.
"We're certainly looking forward to that," Beebe said, "but I'm always one who is 'one week at a time.'"