Aurora Central Catholic created a certain amount of expectation and pressure with last season's playoff appearance, the Chargers' first since 1997.
Those are problems coach Brian Casey seeks annually -- and this year, the same for returning players such as Cody Ekstrom, Brian Bohr, Alec Licar and Jacob Holzer.
"Last year's team and the experience they got, they got over that hurdle," Casey said. "Now they're hungry for more."
Thirteen returning starters, size on the line and landing as defensive coordinator John Belskis, a Hall of Famer who retired last year from Downers Grove South, are among reasons ACC may challenge for the Suburban Christian Gold title and a second straight playoff berth.
A family atmosphere, too.
"We've gotten them to understand what it means to be a good family member and to trust each other and be accountable to each other," Casey said.
One brother won't be on the field. Quarterback Matt Rahn, a starter last year as a sophomore, tore an ACL in July and will have to wait for his senior season. That gives the ball to Kyle Reilly, a Metea Valley transfer who is not the pure runner Rahn was, but "still gives our offense a tremendous chance to win," Casey said.
The Chargers graduated 1,000-yard rusher and Gold player of the year Steven Amoni (as well as Gold defensive player of the year Izzy Rosa, a Class 3A All-State lineman), but return three-year starter Brian Bohr and Julian Rios. The former ran for 652 yards and 6 touchdowns, the latter averaged 11 yards per carry and scored 6 touchdowns on just 25 rushes.
Along with returnee Sean Anger shifting to receiver from tight end, Casey hopes for a breakout season from Aurora Christian transfer Hunter Fiorito on offense and special teams. Last year's double-wing offense averaged a dynamite 263 yards rushing a game but more balance is sought to avoid potential long-yardage situations.
On the other hand, an offensive line Casey called the biggest he's had in his four years may produce another steamroller approach, especially while Reilly gets his feet wet. Returning starting linemen Licar, Tony Hizo and Mikey Malawski each top 255 pounds while projected starters Eddie Gonzalez and Mike Shanahan are listed at 290 and 280, respectively.
Defensively the Chargers return their third leading tackler last year, Cody Ekstrom, and several others who made an impact including fellow linebackers Jacob Holzer, Roman Padilla and Karlo Valenzuela, and nose tackle Hizo.
Casey would like to build depth on both offensive and defensive lines. But in adding Belskis, who won the 2001 Class 8A title at Downers Grove South, Casey said: "It makes everyone better."
That seems the general direction Aurora Central Catholic is headed.
"We certainly have the talent, we certainly have the players with experience," Casey said. "It'll be what will they do on and off the field to prepare, to be accountable to one another."