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That's the message from the Metro Suburban Conference to the seven schools joining the league this year, doubling its size and creating an eclectic mix of talent across the sporting spectrum.
Football becomes the first sport to reap the benefits.
"We've come a long way as a conference," said Fenton football coach Mark Kos. "It continues to develop validity for the conference."
In the spring Aurora Central Catholic, Chicago Christian, Guerin, IC Catholic Prep, St. Edward, Walther Christian and Wheaton Academy jointly decided to leave the Suburban Christian Conference in favor of the MSC. They add to the existing grouping of Fenton, Glenbard South, Elmwood Park, Ridgewood, Riverside-Brookfield and non-football schools Illiana Christian and Timothy Christian.
Glenbard South romped to a 4-0 record as last year's champion, winning by an average of 36 points a game. While the Raiders remain favored to repeat in the revamped two-division league -- they'll be in the MSC West Division with Fenton, IC Catholic Prep, Wheaton Academy, Aurora Central and Riverside-Brookfield -- they know the road just became a little tougher.
"The schools coming in on our side, they're strong teams," said Glenbard South coach Jeremy Cordell. "It's great that we're in a sound, solid conference like this. Just developing some new rivalries, that'll be nice to see."
Glenbard South may not have the explosive offense of last year, but seven defensive starters return headed by linebackers Andre Steiger and Jake Kapp and defensive back Jack Curtis, who also will figure into the offensive plans.
Fenton eyes a fifth playoff appearance in six years behind a core of third-year starters including quarterback Willie Wassmann, running back-linebacker Matt Lucas, and two-way linemen Adam Benayad and Cody Quarles.
The top two teams in last year's standings plan to stay there, but they'll be pushed in the West by current rival Riverside-Brookfield and burgeoning rivals Aurora Central, IC Catholic Prep and Wheaton Academy.
The arrivals from the Suburban Christian -- including East Division members St. Edward, Chicago Christian, Guerin and Walther Christian -- spent years being beaten by state powers like Montini, St. Francis, Aurora Christian and Marian Central.
To the newcomers, joining the MSC is like a breath of fresh air.
"We're excited," said IC Catholic Prep coach Bill Krefft. "Different atmospheres and different stadiums. The kids are looking forward to it."
The Knights, last season's SCC Gold champion, hope an expanded offensive playbook brings success in the MSC. A bevy of talented skill players includes quarterback Connor Youngman, running backs Max Eichhorn and Jordan Rowell and receiver Rashaun Epting.
Wheaton Academy had high hopes last season but couldn't overcome a 1-3 start with blowout losses to Montini and Aurora Christian. With quarterback David Thrasher returning on offense and an experienced group of linebackers and defensive backs, the Warriors aim for a better start to the season.
And like everyone else in the MSC, they eagerly await a new start.
"It's a good and timely match for us in terms of where we're at as a program," said Wheaton Academy coach Brad Thornton. "I think it'll be great for us."
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