St. Edward football coach Mike Rolando knows what playoff teams look like. After all, he's coached two of them since he revived the program in 2005.
The Green Wave finished 6-4 in 2009 and 8-3 in 2010 and reached the playoffs both years, but Rolando said this team might be the best he has ever coached at the Elgin school.
"We've got a power running back with Davontae Elam, some speedy running backs, some good receivers and depth all around," Rolando said. "I don't see why we can compete with anybody on our schedule this year. We'd like to make a good showing in our last round with some of these guys in the conference."
Fortified by a roster of 30-plus players -- a healthy total for a team that began last season with 24 -- the Green Wave is preparing for one last tour of the Suburban Christian Conference. St. Edward is among seven members of the current SCC set to merge with the Metro Suburban Conference next fall.
Rolando's optimism centers on a defense that returns nine players, a deep junior class responsible for more position battles than normal and a talented, four-year varsity running back in Davontae Elam.
Elam showed flashes of brilliance as a junior when healthy, but staying on the field was a challenge for him in 2012. Despite missing multiple games he managed to rush for 918 yards and 8 touchdowns on 168 carries (5.5 avg.).He has gained the interest of Northern Illinois along with several Division-I programs who intend to track his progress as a senior, according to his coach.
"He's a four-year varsity guy," Rolando said. "He's going to be playing like a man this year. We've seen some great running backs in this area. I'm hoping Davontae has a healthy season so we can mention him in the same breath as some of the great ones."
Complementing Elam's power-rushing style will be speed backs Mikey Castoro (77 carries, 494 yards), who played quarterback last season out of necessity, and sophomore Dwayne Allen, who gained a bit of varsity experience late last season. Also returning are seniors Will Bothwell (57 carries, 240 yards) and multisport athlete Danny Favela (28-161-1 TD). Also in the mix is Davontae Elam's freshman brother, Deshawn Elam (5-8, 145).
Rolando said he is equally happy with junior quarterbacks Joe Mullen (6-2, 162) and Brian O'Neill (6-1, 165), who battled for the starting position deep into fall camp. Both got their feet wet at the varsity level last season. O'Neill saw more action, completing 13 of 30 attempts for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. They will both rely on senior wide receiver Austin Murray (6-0, 150) and 6-4 junior tight end Nick Duffy (2 rec., 53 yards, 1 TD).
The offensive line is a strong point, anchored by three-year starters Collin Holte (5-10, 235) and Zach West (6-2, 255). Starting middle linebacker Jack Tierney (6-0, 195) will play guard in addition to his defensive duties. They are joined by Chris Kelly (5-10, 205), who played center and middle linebacker last year on the sophomore level, and senior Matt Colasuono (6-1, 195), who recovered from a preseason injury to play late last season.
"We're pretty excited about our O-line," Rolando said. "Our smallest player is around 195 (pounds) and a couple of them are around 250-260. Those are pretty good-sized kids for our level of football."
The veteran defense is led by a stout front line, featuring Holte, West, junior Kasey Cooke (5-11, 260) and multisport athlete Tighe Koehring (6-2, 200) at defensive end. Junior Brandon Ostrander (6-3, 220) and sophomore end Josh Von Rohr (6-0, 180) will also see playing time at end.
Linebacker Bothwell (82 tackles, Int.) was the team's second-leading tackler last season. He returns alongside Tierney (45 tackles) and Colasuono (15 tackles).
Rolando said St. Edward's veteran, athletic secondary "goes two-deep at every position." Davontae Elam and Murray return at cornerback while the 6-foot-3 Favela and speedy Castoro play safety.
Junior kicker Joe French made 3 of 5 field goals and 10 extra points last season.
St. Edward opens with nonconference games against Genoa-Kingston and at West Hancock Hamilton, a pair of must wins if the Wave expects playoff eligibility.
"At this point we're expecting to compete with everybody," Rolando said. If a 5A or 6A (school) overlooks us, I think we can beat just about anybody. A lot of things still have to develop and take place, but the confidence level is there. I think we have a lot of talent at a lot of different positions."