Daily Herald's 2017 Season Coverage
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updated: 8/25/2014 11:03 PM

Change of scenery for Montini, St. Francis

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  • Montini coach Chris Andriano will lead his team into a new conference, the Chicago Catholic League Green.

      Montini coach Chris Andriano will lead his team into a new conference, the Chicago Catholic League Green.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer


After all the preamble about the Suburban Christian Conference splitting up, it's time to play some football.

Montini, St. Francis, Marmion and Aurora Christian are now in the Chicago Catholic League. Marian Central, initially part of the package, veered to the East Suburban Catholic Conference.

As with anything new there's uncertainty about this turf.

"It's kind of like moving into a new neighborhood. You don't ever know exactly what you're dealing with until actually walking up and down the block. We've got to find that out," said 36-year Montini coach Chris Andriano, playing for the first time in a league without "Suburban" in the name.

Coach Frank Lenti's Mt. Carmel Caravan, out of the powerhouse CCL Blue, comes off the second straight of his 11 state championships. He welcomes the new teams.

"Strength in numbers," Lenti said, and locally there are few stronger than Montini. The Broncos have played in five straight Class 5A championship games, their streak of four straight titles broken last season by Sacred Heart-Griffin.

"I don't care what division Montini plays in, they're going to be good. They've got that kind of foundation in their program and Chris has done a great job," said Lenti, who has won the most Illinois high school football games, 339.

Montini, St. Francis and Marmion join Fenwick and DeLaSalle in the Green Division. While not on par with the Blue -- which in 2013 saw 13-1 Mt. Carmel win the 7A title, 12-2 Loyola lose in 8A to Naperville Central and 12-2 St. Rita win the Prep Bowl over Simeon -- it's strong top to bottom.

"You bring in programs like Montini, that only enhances your conference," Lenti said.

What was a three-division Chicago Catholic League has expanded to three divisions of five schools and one of four. In addition to nonconference games the first two weeks, most CCL teams will play three crossover games as well as four divisional opponents. The four smaller (and less successful) Red Division teams also add Illinois High School Association associate member Lake Forest Academy.

It's GPS-required for the old SCC teams. At least Marmion gets Aurora Christian as a crossover along with Providence and St. Francis de Sales. The Cadets met Fenwick in 2011 and 2012 nonconference games albeit without current Friars coach Gene Nudo, who led Driscoll to a 1991 state championship before heading to the Arena League.

The unfamiliarity, Marmion coach Dan Thorpe said, "is not as significant for us probably as it is for St. Francis, Aurora Christian, some other people."

Aurora Christian definitely is knocking on different doors. Ranked No. 2 in Class 3A by "Edgy" Tim O'Halloran of, there's slim to no history against CCL White teams St. Ignatius, Bishop McNamara, Leo and St. Laurence. The courageous Eagles scheduled St. Rita for homecoming.

"I don't know what we're about to play," said Aurora Christian coach David Beebe. "I've watched Bishop Mac, I've studied Bishop Mac, the other teams ... I don't know."

Like Thorpe said, St. Francis is in the same boat. The Spartans' advantage, however, is not even its rivals know exactly what to expect entering Week 1.

St. Francis has established players such as Nate Zito and Tom Petrando, but new coach Mike Fitzgerald was a spread-passing guru as Marist's offensive coordinator. If he has the pieces it could be a far cry from former coach Greg Purnell's Wing-T. St. Francis' Blue Division crossover, Brother Rice, also went 3-7 last season.

Montini will enter as the CCL Green favorite. The Broncos deliver Indiana-bound receiver Leon Thornton III, promising quarterback Chuck Norgle and fine sophomore tailback Prince Walker following a huge offensive line paced by Division I prospect Grant Branch. New offensive line coach Steve Nye, Brother Rice coach from 1999-2011, can provide tips.

Montini will be tested. Its first three games are nonconference foes Maine South, East St. Louis and CCL crossover St. Rita.

When Fenwick, Nudo and Benet transfer quarterback Jack Beneventi come to Lombard Oct. 17 fans will crowd the field. And typically no team plays Montini tougher than Marmion, which itself reached the 2010 Class 6A title game.

"We've got some teams we're familiar with, with Marmion and St. Francis, but then there's DeLaSalle and Fenwick, we've never played those schools," Broncos coach Andriano said. "There's going to be a feeling-out process here and finding out what we're in.

"Are we in over our heads? I hope not."

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