Perhaps no football team in the state enjoyed a bigger one-year turnaround than Benet.
From 1-8 in 2011 to 11-2 last year, the Redwings stunned many by claiming a share of the title in the brutal East Suburban Catholic Conference and advancing to the Class 7A semifinals.
For all the success, Benet's many returning players focused on one thing during the off-season. How can the program take the next step toward a state title?
"When we lost to Lincoln-Way East (37-13 in the semifinals), we could see there was a gap evident between us and those top teams," said Benet coach Pat New, whose team returns 13 starters. "How do we close that gap?"
The answer starts on offense with junior quarterback Jack Beneventi, who threw for 2,300 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore. His college offers already include Notre Dame, Illinois, Iowa and Louisville.
"He looks five times better than last year," New said.
While his top two receivers graduated, his two top running backs and tight end return. Porter Ontko, Nick McTarnaghan and Nick Surges combined for 65 catches and 800 receiving yards.
Ontko and McTarnaghan also bring back nearly 1,600 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. Three returning linemen include Sean O'Mara, one of the state's top basketball recruits.
"We have a lot back on offense, but we're looking for that game-breaker like we had last year," New said.
Benet suffered key graduation losses at linebacker, but the Redwings will be stout up front with Steve Hubona, who had a team-high 10 sacks, and Surges. Ontko and Ryan Parks help offset losses in the secondary.
Another way Benet will make up for key graduation losses is with a junior class that went unbeaten in the ESCC at the sophomore level despite being without Beneventi.
With strong back-to-back classes, the Redwings may just be ready to take that next step.
"We're not going to be able to sneak up on teams like last year," New said. "We just have to have faith that these guys are going to step up."
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Fri, 8/30 Benet at Downers Grove South 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/6 South Elgin at Benet 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/13 St. Patrick at Benet 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/20 Benet at Crete 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/27 Benet at Marian Catholic 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/4 St. Viator at Benet 7:30 p.m.
Sat, 10/12 Benet at Nazareth 1:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/18 Benet at Marist 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/25 Joliet Catholic at Benet 7:30 p.m.