The team with three straight state titles under its belt must enter the season as its conference favorite.
Montini may well get some heat in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division from St. Francis, Marian Central and Marmion, but the Broncos return loads of talent and from last season's third straight Class 5A championship team.
"I think Marian Central and St. Francis, both of those teams will be very good," said Broncos coach Chris Andriano. "Both teams have quality kids back, Division I players, and both have great staffs, great coaches. They'll be definite factors. Us and them, to me, are the three best teams."
Along with St. Edward, this leaves the curious case of Aurora Christian. Losing only to Montini last season, the Eagles went 6-0 in the SCC Gold to earn promotion to the Blue. Aurora Christian returns 16 players who at one point started on its 13-1 Class 3A championship squad, including Northern Illinois-bound Brandon Mayes and Chad Beebe, son of Eagles coach Don Beebe. Now it finds itself looking up at people.
"Are we at St. Francis' level yet, and Montini and Marian?" Don Beebe asked rhetorically. "How can you be with 311 kids?"
Few even in Illinois history are on Montini's championship level. This year the Broncos are headed by 1,000-yard receiver Joe Borsellino, who rolls skill and smashmouth into one 185-pound package. Montini will be big on the line, led by 300-pound Tate Briggs and 240-pound David Sarkan at the tackles. The defense is not replete with returnees but may be faster than last year.
A key to Montini's chances will be how quarterback Alex Wills, a Wheaton Warrenville South transfer, executes the spread offense. Fellow junior Jimmy Barron quarterbacked Montini's sophomores to an unbeaten season last year.
Despite all the Montini hype, Marian Central enters as SCC Blue defending champion. Coach Ed Brucker typically comes in with low numbers but extremely physical play. The Hurricanes' college-bound lineman this year is Western Michigan recruit Kurtis Stirneman, while quarterback Chris Streveler is going to Minnesota.
St. Francis returns more starters than when it won Class 5A in 2008, including Michigan-bound tackle Kyle Bosch. The Spartans took a huge hit when Jack Petrando, their top tackler the last two seasons and a 1,400-yard rusher, hurt an MCL in July. St. Francis can still excel with a bevy of backs and a line that graduated only one spot.
Marmion, just two seasons removed from a 6A runner-up finish, has also felt the injury bug, losing returning linebacker Matt Lally. But Dan Thorpe has enough trust in two quarterbacks, returner Charlie Faunce and junior Brock Krueger, that he's shifted to a spread offense and plans to use both on a play-by-play basis.
"Three M's and a Francis wannabe," is St. Francis coach Greg Purnell's assessment of the SCC Blue.
In the SCC Gold, Aurora Christian's absence opens the door to Immaculate Conception, Aurora Central Catholic and even Wheaton Academy, though Walther Lutheran's Najee Toomer may be the division's top athlete.
Returning the Gold's 2011 offensive player of the year in All-Area quarterback Demetrius Carr, starting linemen Sean Fenton and Adalberto Suarez and a solid receiving corps is a good start to IC grad Bill Krefft's first year at the helm.
"IC right now is the top dog of the ones back in that division," said ACC coach Brian Casey. "I think they're the ones that need to be knocked off."