As good as defending Class 3A champion IC Catholic Prep is, Knights coach Bill Krefft is wary of several rivals in the Metro Suburban Conference Blue Division.
Riverside-Brookfield, Glenbard South, Wheaton Academy -- Krefft is concerned.
"I'm sure all three of those programs have been working as hard as we have the whole off-season," Krefft said.
Certainly. However, even having graduated superstar running back Jordan Rowell the Knights appear to be on a serious roll.
Running back Lazerick Eatman would have started for many teams last season. Though he doesn't own Rowell's flat-out speed, Eatman mainly had the misfortune to follow Rowell in school. He'll go behind a line that returns anchors Ricky Mysliwiec and Dylan Packer, who mentored a number of returning starters.
Twins Khalil and Khali Saunders impact both offensively and defensively, and all-conference junior linebacker Kemon Reese made 153 tackles a year ago.
"Their quarterback, Luke Ricobene, is what makes that team go," said Glenbard South coach Ryan Crissey.
The captain of the Knights' read-option offense, Ricobene has played quarterback in IC's last 27 games and in 34 of their last 36. In 2016 the Coaches Association All-State pick threw for 2,389 yards and 30 touchdowns and ran for 648 yards and 11 scores.
Riverside-Brookfield returns five starters on offense and six on defense, according to the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. They include all-Metro Suburban Blue running back-defensive back Nick Del Nodal, receiver Stefan Giminski and huge lineman Tim Buckley, about 6 feet and 320 pounds.
Krefft thinks Riverside-Brookfield is the team to beat.
"I think that they reloaded well," he said, and he thinks Glenbard South did too.
In their final MSC season before bolting to the Upstate Eight Conference next year, the Raiders return three-year starting quarterback Jack Crouch, 2016 tackles leader Nick D'Ambra and Adam Haushahn, who will force the issue at both running back and linebacker.
"I really feel strongly we can compete with the best teams in our league and make a run in the playoffs as well," Crissey said.
Wheaton Academy may field its strongest overall group since bringing back varsity football in 2007. The Warriors typically have skill-position players and they do again with receiver Noah Jones, running back Kent Harmon, defensive back Miles VanderKlok and quarterback Ben Thorson, who holds a Western Kentucky offer as a junior.
It's Wheaton Academy's stock of linemen and linebackers such as Derek Johanik, Graham Wall and Dimitrie Skakavac that may continue the ascent after consecutive 6-4 seasons.
"I think as we've continued to take steps forward as a program, it's created a buzz," said Warriors coach Brad Thornton.
Fenton, headed by tough Dylan Butts, and St. Edward with program record-setting quarterback Dylan Mlinarich will do is best to hang tough. St. Edward does return starters at 20 of 22 positions, including four offensive linemen and safety-receiver Saveon Smith.
IC Catholic may not outscore the rest of the MSC Blue 243-17 as it did last season, but it won't be for lack of trying.
"We'll find new ways to compete with them and new ways to go at them," Krefft said.