New league, same old results
Perhaps there will be a surprise in the race for the Chicago Catholic League Green Division football title.
Not in one regard.
"We're not going to sneak up on anybody," said St. Francis coach Mike Fitzgerald.
In his rookie season as coach after serving as Marist's offensive coordinator, Fitzgerald won the CCL Green's Lawless Award as coach of the year. After decades in the now-defunct Suburban Catholic and Suburban Christian conferences, St. Francis culminated a surprising CCL debut -- at least to those outside the Spartans football family -- with a 3-1 conference co-championship with Montini, which St. Francis beat 31-7.
"I think the CCL Green will be very competitive again this year," Fitzgerald said.
"This conference has some tremendous coaches and players and each week is always a great test. This conference really prepared us for the playoffs last year because each week you are playing a playoff-caliber team."
St. Francis, Montini, Marmion and Fenwick -- not DeLaSalle -- reached the playoffs in 2014. Only Marmion didn't get out of the first-round while St. Francis, Montini and Fenwick all reached at least a state quarterfinal.
"Everybody's got a little bit back, everybody's got some key players, everybody's got a little of what they see as their strength," said Montini coach Chris Andriano.
His former rival at Driscoll, and again now at Fenwick, Gene Nudo, thinks Montini has more than a little.
"I think everybody falls in line after Montini," Nudo said.
The Broncos are strong with some depth at the skill spots on both offense and defense. Headed by new starting varsity quarterback Justin Blake, who flashed traces of brilliance as a receiver and Wildcat-style quarterback last season, Montini's 1,000-yard tailback Prince Walker is supported by other quality backs such as Will Smith.
Receiver Tyler Millikan brings offers from Illinois universities Southern, Western and Eastern plus Morehead State, and the defense is headed by returning middle linebacker John Embrey and speedy cornerback Mitch West. What's seemingly left is to secure offensive and defensive lines that return three starting positions combined.
"We're talented, we just have to get the guys up front to come together," Andriano said.
St. Francis graduated many off last year's Class 6A semifinal roster though momentum and confidence from last year's rousing success is a plus.
Senior returning starters Will Purdom at running back, two-way lineman Kevin Killian and receiver Michael Beach head a Spartans team that, while adhering to Fitzgerald's successful spread offense -- behind last year's third-string quarterback, Peter Fassnacht -- will adapt to personnel.
Marmion will be tough as usual. With its numbers in the mid-30s it must be. The Cadets' strength looks to be up front, returning all-CCL Green center Baylor Johnson and two-way tackle Wes Kramer, who made 41 tackles as a sophomore.
Cadets coach Dan Thorpe is high on 6-foot-4, 215-pound quarterback Johnny Tate, a college prospect unafraid to lower the shoulder.
Like Nudo, Thorpe also sees Montini as the team to beat, then mentions Fenwick's numbers, coaching and linemen such as the Friars' 6-1, 260-pound Joe Calcagno, cousin of St. Francis' graduated all-stater Quinn Calcagno.
Fenwick's quarterback, Casey O'Laughlin, is a converted starting tight end who will be passing to returning receiver and running back Will Lattner, one of five grandsons of former Fenwick Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lattner that Nudo has coached.
DeLaSalle, winless last season in the CCL Green, suffered some transfers but returns a pair of all-conference players, quarterback Tom Duddleston and receiver Eric Rooks.
Nudo said he sees "dark horse" written all over DeLaSalle. Andriano sees the race wide-open.
"I don't know who to even pick," said the Montini coach. "That's how evenly matched most of these teams are."