With a hard-plastic boot on his left foot, Andy Bitto traversed his Carmel Catholic football team's stadium turf alternating between a four-wheeled scooter and 4 x 2 tractor.
Call it an execution of discipline. The 51-year-old Bitto snapped his Achilles tendon while playing pickup basketball with his son on the Fourth of July. When football practice started Aug. 11, he obeyed doctor's orders to stay off his wounded foot.
Bitto also understands the importance of his football team getting started on the right foot.
"Our schedule is more favorable than it was the last couple of years," Bitto said.
Consider that the Corsairs host Fenwick (10-3 in 2013) on Opening Night and visit Chicago Phillips (8-4) for a Saturday matinee in Week 2, before opening East Suburban Catholic Conference play the following week at home against Joliet Catholic (10-2). While those three opponents are hardly cupcakes, consider Carmel's schedule the last two years, when the Corsairs opened with Lincoln-Way East and Glenbard North.
Both state powers won 9 games last season, after both played in state championship games in 2012. Carmel needed a Week-9 upset of Notre Dame to finish last season with 2 wins. The Corsairs won just three games in 2012, snapping a run of 12 straight postseason berths.
After back-to-back seasons yielded just 5 wins, Carmel seeks to bounce back with a group that includes a pair of Division-I prospects on the offensive line in Sean Foster and Noah Turner, both of whom started at sophomores on varsity last year. Foster (6-7, 270), who plays tackle, has received 11 scholarship offers (Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, Buffalo, Cal, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, NIU, Syracuse, Toledo). Turner (6-3, 240), who plays tight end, has been offered by Indiana and Illinois.
Two other juniors who contributed on varsity last season have transferred, however. Running back Darrius Crump, who led the Corsairs with 677 rushing yards, is at Warren, while linebacker Cal Coughlin, who posted 43 tackles, transferred to Lake Forest.
The offensive line also features seniors Adam Stull (6-4, 272), who's been offered by Yale, Patrick Lyman (6-2, 255), Joey Lythcke (6-0, 254) and -- the short one in the group -- Ben Eppel (5-7, 206), who Bitto says benches 350 pounds.
"Our line goes like this," Bitto said, extending his arms and then angling them in. "It caves in."
With Crump gone, sophomore fullback Rondel Jamison (5-8, 170) looks to receive a bulk of the handoffs from senior quarterback Michael Huiras (5-8, 151), who helped engineer the win over Notre Dame last year.
During practice, Bitto marveled at Jamison's running skills during a drill.
"See how he tucks it in?" Bitto said. "You can't teach that."
Senior Joe Hoy (6-0, 200 and junior Zavier Barnes (5-11, 196), a transfer from Mundelein, will share time at slotback in the Corsairs' option offense. The other halfback is Kenny Barber (5-5 138), who went downstate in wrestling at 126 pounds last winter. At wide receiver, the Corsairs are in luck with Trevor Buck (6-0, 175), a senior and three-sport athlete. Veteran coach Ben Berg takes over as offensive coordinator after former Cary-Grove head coach Bruce Kay stepped down to focus on consulting work, Bitto said.
The defense (3-3-5 scheme) graduated leading tackler R.C. Cox but returns senior end/linebacker Joey Lehman (6-5, 205). Senior lineman Liam Griffin (6-4, 215) also played last season. Senior Mark Curran (6-0, 207) and junior Jack Wayland (6-4, 202) also will play upfront. Linebacker Michael Robinson (5-10, 173) played varsity as a sophomore last year. Junior linebacker Will Hoffman (5-10, 177) is new to the varsity, as is junior middle linebacker Remy Chitwood (6-1, 196), who's a transfer from Barrington.
The secondary features senior safeties Hoy, Michael Giunta (5-8, 160) and Michael Pabst (6-0, 176), senior cornerback Collin Psenka (6-2, 175) and newcomer Barnes. Junior Sharief Bailey (5-8, 136) is also in the safety mix.
"The attitude of the kids has been awesome," Bitto said. "It's just a fun group to be around."