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The musical chairs college athletic conferences have been playing in recent years has morphed into high school athletics in Northern Illinois.
A variety of schools have switched conference affiliation in recent times, with the greatest exodus/influx occurring in the expanded Metro Suburban Conference, which now features 14 teams after the defection of seven former Suburban Christian Conference members, including St. Edward.
In football, the Green Wave will compete in the MSC East Division along with Elmwood Park, Walther Christian, Ridgewood, Chicago Christian and Guerin Prep.
St. Edward has the third-largest IHSA-adjusted enrollment in the division (693) behind Elmwood Park (943) and Ridgewood (786). The East Division features three Class 4A schools (St. Edward, Ridgewood and Chicago Christian), one Class 5A (Elmwood Park), one Class 3A (Guerin) and one Class 2A (Walther).
The Green Wave is the only team in the East Division that had a non-losing record last year (5-5). The other five schools sported a combined 10-35 record with no other team winning more than 3 games.
Compare that to the West Division of the conference where four of the six teams (Fenton, IC Catholic Prep, Glenbard South and Aurora Central) made the playoffs and the combined record of the six teams was 33-26.
St. Edward, which plays crossover games against West Division foes Riverside-Brookfield and the familiar IC Catholic Prep after facing Genoa-Kingston and Chicago Michele Clark in nonconference games to start the season, is looking forward to life in the new conference after years of toiling in the football meat grinders of the old Suburban Catholic and Suburban Christian conferences.
"We'd jump up and beat somebody now and then, but the stars had to line up," said St. Edward coach Mike Rolando, who is in his 10th season at the helm. "Your kids had to be on, they had to not be intimidated and you had to catch the other guy on an off day, maybe.
"We look at our schedule now and there are 9 games we can compete in. The kids have a great attitude. They are confident and prepared. If the players do what they need to do and we do our jobs as coaches, there is no reason we can't put together a team that competes in all 9 games."
Rolando, who has directed the Green Wave to the playoffs in three of the last five years, sports a roster of 33 players, the program's largest in 10 years, which includes eight full- or part-time defensive starters. Seniors Jack Tierney (inside linebacker) and Danny Favela (safety) are three-year starters.
On offense, senior Joe Mullen is back at quarterback and will throw to the likes of returners Favela, Nick Duffy and Petey DeWindt. Junior Dwayne Allen will see plenty of action at tailback.
"I'm optimistic mostly because of the depth of talent, the wide range of talent," Rolando said. "I like the well-balanced team we have."
Ridgewood out of Norridge returns 5 starters on offense and two on defense. Key offensive returners include seniors Tyler Gil Ramos (WR, 5-10, 155), Luke Krljic (WR, 5-11, 170) and Ross Diliberto (OT, 5-11, 215). Junior Vinny Scaletta (5-11, 230, DT) leads the defensive returnees. Key newcomers to the team include senior Brandon Cisek (LB, 6-0,175), juniors Seth Krueger (6-0, 180, LB) and Mike Ortiz (5-10, 155, DB) and sophomore Anthony Giovanelli (5-10, 165, LB).
"We can be versatile on offense with the ability to run the ball and throw it," Ridgewood coach Chris Zack said. "Defensively, we have a solid core group of linebackers. If we can play some consistent solid defense, we should be in good shape. Getting off to a good start in nonconference will be key for our young team."
Zack, who feels his team can be in the upper tier of the East, sees St. Edward as a team to keep an eye on in the division.
"St. Edward is a returning state playoff-qualifier team with good size and speed on both sides of the ball," he said.
Chicago Christian out of Palos Heights returns 6 starters on offense and seven on defense. The offense is headlined by seniors Cobly Roundtree (RB, 5-7, 155), Christian Bolhuis (QB, 6-2, 195), Jack DeVries (TE, 6-0, 205) and Ethen Frierson (OT, 6-0, 200), and juniors Luke Rattler (RB, 5-10, 210) and Bill Oaks (OT, 6-6, 250). Defensive top returnees include seniors Clay Bouquet (LB, 5-7, 160), Roundtree (LB), Rattler (LB), Bolhuis (S), DeVries (LB), junior Nathan Krygsheld (CB, 6-0, 155) and sophomore Josh Hill (DE, 6-0, 160). Seniors Luke Boss (CB, 5-8, 160) and Nick Malak (OL-LB, 5-10, 200) are key newcomers.
Roundtree, DeVries and Bolhuis are returning all-conference players.
"Our strength is our senior experience," Chicago Christian coach Jim Bolhuis said. "Five players will be three-year starters. They have worked well together and fought hard. Now they are hoping to put it together for each other."
Bolhuis also pegged St. Edward as a team to watch out for in the division, along with Elmwood Park. "Both have playoff experience and great coaching," he said. "They will be tough."
River Forest-based Guerin Prep, coached by former Chicago Bears player GlenKozlowski, returns seven players on offense and five on defense. Key returnees include senior quarterback Tyler Flynn (6-1, 193), senior offensive tackle Ken West (6-2, 272) and junior wide receiver-free safety Keith Franklin (6-3, 187).
Walther Christian is coming off a 2013 season where it went 2-7 (2-0 against MSC East teams), while Elmwood Park went 1-8 (0-1 against MSC East teams).