Scouting Metro Suburban Conference football
Teams: MSC Blue: Aurora Central Catholic, Aurora Christian, Bishop McNamara, IC Catholic Prep, Riverside-Brookfield, St. Francis, Wheaton Academy. MSC Red: Chicago Christian, Christ the King, Elmwood Park, Guerin, Ridgewood, St. Edward, Westmont.
Key games: Bishop McNamara at Riverside-Brookfield, Sept. 13; Elmwood Park at Ridgewood, Sept. 13; IC Catholic at Bishop McNamara, Sept. 20; St. Edward at Elmwood Park, Sept. 20; Wheaton Academy at St. Francis, Sept. 20; IC Catholic at St. Francis, Oct. 18; Aurora Christian at Wheaton Academy, Oct. 25.
Top players: Drew Babler, Aurora Central, RB-LB; Kevin Cooke, IC Catholic, LB; Trevor Donna, Wheaton Academy, LB; Kyle Franklin, IC Catholic, RB; Luke Gentile, Riverside-Brookfield, WR-RB-DB; Ethan Hampton, Aurora Christian, QB; Tyler Hiller, Bishop McNamara, QB; Anthony Holte, St. Edward, QB; Owen Jackson, Bishop McNamara, Chauncey Lee, IC Catholic, DB; RB; Gabe Lischalk, Westmont, OL-DL; Christian Pares, Wheaton Academy, OL-DL; Ben Radel, St. Francis, RB-LB; Tommy Rittenhouse, St. Francis, QB; Zeke Rolando, St. Edward, WR; Connor Schmidt, St. Francis, OL-DL; Ty Sperling, Chicago Christian, LB; Mike Stranski, Elmwood Park, QB; Bryce Thurman, Guerin, QB; Jesus Velasco, Ridgewood, RB-DB.
Outlook: The Metro Suburban Conference Blue division may be better than last season. Given that IC Catholic and Bishop McNamara faced each other in the 2018 Class 4A state championship, ICCP winning 31-21, that's saying something. St. Francis, 8-3 last season with regular-season losses only to those two teams, returns 15 starters including gunslinger quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse, who passed for 21 touchdowns as a sophomore. Aurora Christian advanced to the Class 1A quarterfinals behind returning junior quarterback Ethan Hampton, who threw for 2,457 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. Riverside-Brookfield went an uncharacteristic 2-7 overall and 0-6 in the Blue, but the Bulldogs played a bunch of underclassmen and should be vastly improved. Wheaton Academy will have to retool its offense, but the Warriors have strength on the lines and linebacker Trevor Donna, who made 91 tackles as a sophomore. Low numbers may have Aurora Central looking up at the rest, including standard-bearers IC Catholic and "Bishop Mac." In 2018 they scored 590 and 660 points, respectively. Led by 45-year head coach Rich Zinanni, McNamara returns quarterback Tyler Hiller, one reason IC Catholic coach Bill Krefft called this the "year of the quarterback" in the Metro Blue. IC Catholic is 21-0 in divisional play the past four seasons with three Blue titles and one in the Red and remains the favorite despite an all-new offensive line. The Knights excel at reloading, and junior Kyle Franklin is one of the state's best running backs. The Metro Red welcomes newcomers Westmont and Christ the King and lost Fenton to the Upstate Eight Conference. Defending champ St. Edward returns 18 of 22 starters from a team that went 5-0 in the Red. Several all-conference players return including quarterback Anthony Holte, receiver Zeke Rolando (coach Mike Rolando's son), and Luke Breier, one of five returning offensive linemen. The Green Wave won the division for the first time since 2014; usually it comes down to Ridgewood and Elmwood Park. In fact, despite St. Edward's experience Ridgewood first-year head coach Matt Walsh -- who returns the Metro Red's reigning defensive player of the year in linebacker Jesus Velasco -- believes "it's Elmwood Park's to win" considering the Tigers field three-year starting quarterback Mike Stranski and solid numbers overall. Westmont went 5-4 as an independent last season.
Quotable: "I think it's going to be another tough season, good football in a tough conference. And you've always got the Knights at the top of the mountain you've got to knock off." -- St. Francis coach Bob McMillen.