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Last season St. Charles East got where it wanted to be. Since then the Saints have worked to get closer to where they need to be.
Last fall, in East's first playoff game since 2009 the Saints got their hats handed to them by Wheaton North, one of the best in Class 7A, 41-13. The leadership mantle of St. Charles East all-state fullback-linebacker Joe Hoscheit — defensive MVP of the Upstate Eight Conference's River Division — has now been handed down to others.
Some spots are inexperienced; others stocked with proven commodities. Befitting last year's second-place UEC River finish the Saints trail only defending champ Batavia in returning all-conference players.
"I just think time will tell," said St. Charles East coach Mike Fields. "I like the fact that we have two nonconference games (South Elgin and Jacobs) before we kick off the conference season."
Fields' concerns gravitate mainly to the offensive and defensive lines. Actually, that offensive line has potential of being pretty good.
Center Ben Smith returns after his all-conference junior season, good to have quality in the middle. Two spots down at offensive tackle is returning starter Brennan Bosch, a junior who has been offered a scholarship by the University of Illinois. Candidates to fill in the other spots include seniors Steven Jagodzinski and Zach Roberts and junior Jack Sharkey.
The defensive line brings back less experience, though it's intriguing how 6-foot-6 David Mason, a basketball player who hasn't gone out for football since middle school, will fit in. At the other end, 6-foot-3 senior Luke Spicer got reps last season, and Fields likes the athleticism of down linemen Vinnie Mugnolo and Cullen Cady.
Defensive coordinator Brian Teresinski returns the bulk of his experience behind the line with a quartet of solid players: Jon Finn and Michael Candre at linebacker and two-way starters Brannon Barry and Mitch Munroe at safety and cornerback, respectively. Another pair of seniors, Scott Roback and Geno Rogers, come off great summers in the secondary.
A key to how this all goes down will be Barry, a three-year starter, team co-captain and bearing an offer from Western Illinois with interest from Syracuse to Illinois State.
"I'm really looking for him to be a leader, to continue the positive things that he does," Fields said. "He does a lot of things for us — number one receiver, he has the opportunity to play safety, he's our best long-snapper in a long time. Just anything we can do, he does it."
Last season Barry caught 41 passes for 450 yards and 5 touchdowns, and the connection between he and returning all-conference quarterback Jimmy Mitchell will only get stronger. The hope is the physical, 6-foot-5 Barry will draw coverage to open up other receivers such as Munroe, Alex Abate, track sprinter Mo Flanigan, another basketball player, A.J. Washington, and Northwestern-style "H-back"/tight end, Phil Hopper.
The offense also features returning tailback Erik Anderson and Ramon Lopez at fullback.
"We've got to run the ball to have success and from what I've seen so far they complement each other real well," Fields said.
Also noteworthy offensively is that Fields replaced himself as offensive coordinator with Shaun Ratay, the former star Geneva quarterback Fields coached before arriving at St. Charles East.
Both men can impart what it takes to to succeed, but Fields indicated these Saints don't really need to be reminded.
"I think that they've worked hard in the off-season," Fields said. "What I really like about these kids, this senior group, they're going to leave a legacy of work."