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Even though the East Suburban Catholic Conference has gone to a six-game schedule there still are rarely any breaks.
Even if a team happens to miss Joliet Catholic and USC-bound running back Ty Isaac, Marist or defending league champion Nazareth is probably on the horizon.
And if the two programs that finished at the bottom last year, Benet and St. Viator, improve as expected, then it will be a rough road to a title.
"The ESCC will be extremely competitive," said Notre Dame coach Mike Hennessey. " Every week is a battle. Teams in our league just seem to be getting better and better."
Joliet Catholic (11-3, 6-2) is always one of the best but finished a game behind Marist and Nazareth last year. The Hilltoppers ended up playing one of the most memorable state title games in a 70-45 Class 5A loss to Montini.
Isaac is back to give opposing defenses serious nightmares after rushing for 2,629 yards and 42 touchdowns. That included 515 yards and 6 TDs in the finale in Champaign.
Marist (7-3, 7-1) can put up points in a hurry, too, with QB Ian Woodworth (2,825 yards, 30 TDs) and WR Nic Weishar (75 catches, 1,149 yards, 13 TDs). The key is limiting points after allowing 31.9 a game last year.
"Marist is loaded this year and Joliet Catholic will be a force again as usual," said Nazareth coach Tim Racki.
But the Roadrunners (10-2 7-1) will be racing around once again as the rushing duo of Josh Moore (1,244 yards, 11 TDs) and Rudy Romagnano (741 yards) returns. They also have a nice crew of defensive returnees in linebackers Dan DeSimone and Tommy Gray and DE Pat Vitek.
Carmel (7-4, 6-2) also puts points on the board in big numbers with its triple option but has to replace its entire backfield from last year. Senior QB Josh Walinski will try to keep the Corsairs' offensive tradition rolling.
Notre Dame (5-5, 4-4) was the fifth playoff qualifier from the ESCC last year. Another postseason trip looks possible as the Dons are bigger and faster with senior QB Dan Nagode, OT Nick Bargione, WR-DB Billy Hirsch and junior LB Tom Sora.
Having 9 of 13 starters back on defense could bode well for Benet (1-8, 0-8) considering the offensive threats in the league. Charles Melka and Steve Tyznik lead the way up front and LB Jack Crain is solid.
"We know we want to be competing with the best teams in the league," said Benet coach Pat New. "We can do that with the defense we have. They can keep us in games."
Ball State recruit Jarid Lloyd, Quinn Hartigan and basketball star Sean O'Mara are back on the offensive line and New likes what he sees in 6-foot-6 sophomore QB Jack Beneventi.
St. Viator (2-7, 1-7) also has a new look on the coaching front as former Driscoll player and coach Brandon New takes over. An experienced, big line led by Hugh Masterson and Roy Pettingill should give skill players Mayo Arogundade, John Balas and Kevin Hammarlund opportunities to shine.
Marian Catholic (4-5, 3-5) and St. Patrick (3-6, 2-6) also figure to be in the ultracompetitive ESCC mix.
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