2022 season preview: Scouting the Metro Suburban Conference

  • St. Francis lineman TJ McMillen, right, will play college football at Illinois.

    St. Francis lineman TJ McMillen, right, will play college football at Illinois. Sandy Bressner/sbressner@shawmedia.com

  • Mike Rolando is starting his 18th and final season coaching St. Edward.

      Mike Rolando is starting his 18th and final season coaching St. Edward. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/22/2022 11:31 AM

Blue Division

Aurora Central Catholic

 

2021 record: 3-6

Coach: Christian Rago

Worth noting: Rago takes over for John Belskis, who returned to the program for one season after also coaching the Chargers during the 2015-2016 seasons. ACC hasn't advanced to the playoffs since 2016 when it finished 9-2. ... The Chargers bring back five starters on offense and eight on defense. Junior QB Kevin Stanislo will guide an offense that also returns senior wide receivers Jake Bianchi, Zach Stuck and Walker Szweistis. Bianchi and Stuck will see time at outside linebacker and Szweistis will be in the defensive backfield. ... Rago said his team will be young up front and will rely on junior Zach Dineen to anchor both lines. "We have a lot of youth up front on both sides of the ball." Rago said. "We will lean on junior Zack Dineen to lead the youth movement and help bring the young guys along. Our strength is in the returners playing our skill positions both offensively and defensively." ... Rago listed junior OL/LB Isaac Michels and junior Layton Tyler as newcomers to watch.

Bishop McNamara

2021 record: 7-5

Coach: Shawn Lade

Worth noting: It will be the first season since 1975 that the Fightin' Irish won't be led by Rich Zinanni, as the Hall of Fame coach retired at the end of last season where McNamara bowed out in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs with a loss to eventual state champion Wilmington. ... Replacing Zinanni wasn't a smooth transition either as the original replacement hired to take his place left during the summer to take a different position at a neighboring school district, which eventually led to Lade, a longtime assistant of Zinanni's taking the reins of the program. ... Personnel-wise, Bishop McNamara also took a substantial hit with the transfer of standout running back Tony Phillips across town to Kankakee. Despite that, the Irish do return three offensive lineman in Zach Hansen, Tucker Inman and Jared Salzman that will protect returning quarterback Deuce Allaway. Allaway also has some threats to utilize on the outside in wide receivers Jaxson and Landon Provost.

Elmwood Park

2021 record: 2-7

Coach: Dylan Mack

Worth noting: The Tigers did manage a pair of wins last fall, but they were not competitive in enough games. Four losses came by at least 50 points and another was a 36-point deficit. ... Elmwood Park had made the playoffs for three consecutive full seasons prior to 2021, including an 8-3 season in 2018. Mack, entering his seventh season, will try to get the Tigers back on track. Reed-Custer, a Class 4A quarterfinalist last fall, will again provide a tough test in Week 1.

IC Catholic Prep

2021 record: 11-2

Coach: Bill Krefft

Worth noting: The Knights, who won back-to-back states in Class 3A in 2016 and 2017 before winning the Class 4A state title in 2018, have now reach a state semifinal five times since 2015. IC nearly found its way back to the 3A title game last fall but fell to Byron, 15-14, in the state semifinals. ... Krefft and his staff will have some holes to fill with six returning starters on offense and three on defense, but the Knights return several impact players. ... Junior WR/FS KJ Parker will be a key component on both sides of the football. He holds offers from Iowa, Iowa State and Wisconsin and finished last season with 27 catches for 465 yards along with eight interceptions while playing in the secondary. Parker will be a top target for junior QB Dennis Mandala, who went 108-of-166 passing for 1,742 yards with 23 TDs against five interceptions last fall. ... Senior RB Malik Gray returns after posting 1,011 rushing yards and 10 TDs a season ago. ... RB/WR/SS Denzell Gibson had 13 total TDs between rushing and receiving last year, and Isaiah Gonzalez will anchor both lines. ... OL/LB Mikey Calcagno, WR/LB JP Schmidt, WR/CB Kaleb Ellis and WR/DB Joey Gliatta -- all juniors -- and sophomore RB/LB Dominik Hulak are names to keep an eye on. ... IC faces Montini and Joliet Catholic to start the season and then will finish with four 2021 postseason qualifiers.

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Ridgewood

2021 record: 1-8

Coach: Vincent Fanelli

Worth noting: Fanelli, who has 17 years experience as an assistant coach and is also the school's varsity baseball coach, takes over for Matt Walsh. Walsh led the Rebels for four seasons and compiled a 7-25 record. ... Ridgewood hasn't qualified for the postseason since a string of three straight appearances from 2015-2017. ... The Rebels took their lumps last fall during a 1-8 campaign, losing six games by at least 35 points, but they should be more competitive this season with 11 returning starters on offense and eight on defense. ... Fanelli said junior QB Jaden Rodriguez has "improved immensely" since last season. Rodriguez is also the baseball's team starting shortstop and No. 1 pitcher. Junior RB/LB Julian Luna should handle the bulk of the carries. Seniors WR/QB/S Joey Clark, TE/DL David Dusza and WR/CB Gino Melendez are entering their third seasons as starters. Senior OL/DL Kuba Tyskzka (6-6, 270) has an offer from Valparaiso and is receiving D-I interest. Tyskzka will be joined in the trenches by 6-4, 278-pound sophomore Gil Mendoza to give the Rebels size up front. Fanelli also expects sophomore WR/S Luke Melendez to be an impact player. Melendez's father Joe was a standout wide receiver at Ridgewood. ... "My expectation for this team is to compete at a high level and if we do that, we will put ourselves in a good spot to have a successful season," Fanelli said. "Our guys are practicing with a chip on their shoulder right now after the 1-8 season they had last year. They have a fire in their eyes and we just need to see another color jersey and play a real football game." ... The Rebels open against back-to-back Chicago Public League opponents before the schedule toughens up with matchups with state powers Bishop McNamara and IC Catholic in Weeks 3 and 4, respectively, followed by a matchup with Wheaton Academy, which is coming off an 8-3 season.

Wheaton Academy

2021 record: 8-3

Coach: Jim Johanik

Worth noting: The Warriors are coming off their best season in program history, piling up eight wins and reaching the Class 4A second round, where they fell to eventual state champion Joliet Catholic. ... Wheaton Academy returns four starters on offense and five on defense. That starts with QB Belay Brummel. The senior split time with 2022 graduate David Dorn under center last season. Brummel, who went 70 for 119 for 918 yards with 12 TDs and no interceptions last fall, already has offers from Ivy League and FCS schools. Johanik said Brummel is being looked at by several FBS Power Five programs. ... The Warriors did lose four of their top five receivers in terms of receptions, but Johanik said his team is deep at the position with WR/DB Breck Peacock (5-11, 180), WR/S James Fellowes (6-1, 180), WR Jalen Whitaker and WR/DB Donovan Meeters all back for their senior seasons. Junior WR/DB Brett Kasper Jr. is the younger brother of Eddie Kasper, last season's leading receiver, and sophomore WR/DB Zack Moravec was a standout as a freshman, according to Johanik. ... Junior DE Ethan Brunner started both ways as a sophomore and earned all-conference honors, and sophomore Brandon Kiebles started his entire freshman year at linebacker. ... Senior Gavin Pedone (6-1, 220) is a potential D-I lacrosse recruit and is playing football this fall. Johanik called him one of the fastest players on the team. He'll be joined in the backfield by sophomore Steven Fellows (6-0, 195). ... Senior OT/DT Jaret Jawor (6-4, 250) is a transfer from Lincoln-Way Central who could make an impact. ... Sophomore Jeremy Johanik (6-0, 200) is taking over the center position. He should also see time at defensive end or linebacker, where his older brother Peter was a Class 4A all-state selection last season. Four of five starting offensive linemen are newcomers. ... Defensive coordinator Justin Swider is being assisted by his father Mike Swider Sr., the longtime Wheaton College head coach. ... Things set up favorably for Wheaton Academy with only three playoff teams from 2021 on the schedule.

Red Division

Aurora Christian

2021 record: 6-4

Coach: David Beebe

Worth noting: The Eagles earned a postseason spot for the fourth straight full season under Beebe, but they were bounced by eventual Class 1A state champion Lena-Winslow in the first round. ... Aurora Christian got off to a quick start last fall but will face a tougher start this season. It faces Ottawa Marquette, coming off a 9-2 season in Week 1, and then faces Tinley Park in Week 2. Tinley Park is coming off a one-win season but has a significantly higher enrollment than AC. ... The Eagles bring back seven starters on offense, led by junior QB Max Bray. He'll have returning receivers in Than Lindoo and Owen Hampton to target with Grant Henderson, Braden Hunter, Rudy Griffin and Grant Maddox back up front to block. ... Henderson, Hunter and Lindoo will also play on defense along with returning starters safety Sal Delgado and DL Aiden Malone. ... A historically tough small-school program, Beebe said Aurora Christian struggled with numbers during the heart of the pandemic but numbers are rebounding. He said the program's JV numbers are among the best "in a long time." Beebe said several freshmen will have an impact at the varsity level and listed freshmen OL/DL David Avitia, WR/CB Jalen Carter, OL/DL Lamari Hall and RB/LB Drew Kegebein among his newcomers to watch, which also includes two seniors (OL/DL Eddie Henley, WR/LB Jonathan Knight), three juniors (TE/LB Joey Annerino, OL/DL Wes Delaney, RB/LB Dominic Savini) and two sophomores (RB/CB Chris Fielding, WR/S Jonan Miceli).

Chicago Christian

2021 record: 4-5

Coach: Tom O'Connor

Worth noting: The Knights finished the 2021 season, the first under O'Connor, with three straight wins, but it wasn't enough to overcome a 1-5 start. ... Chicago Christian returns three starters on offense and four on defense. The Knights will rely on their experience at linebacker where they return all three starters in senior RB/LB Ethan Vande Werken, senior TE/LB Adam Stuursma and sophomore OL/LB Brock Sperling. Seniors Will Zabrocki and Will Ceci return to anchor both lines. ... O'Connor is hoping some of the Knights' success in track and field can translate to the football field. Junior RB/DB Jeremiah Oliver and junior WR/DB Jon Tobey were all-state in the 4x100. Sophomore WR/DB Caden Boersma qualified for state in the triple jump. ... Junior WR/DB Ryan Heard, junior WR/DB Austin Huizenga and sophomore OL/DL are additional new names to watch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Riverside-Brookfield

2021 record: 5-5

Coach: Sam Styler

Worth noting: Styler steps in at Riverside-Brookfield to replace Brendan Curtin, who led the Bulldogs to six postseason appearances in his nine full seasons. R-B won five of its first six games last fall but finished the regular season with three straight losses before losing to East St. Louis in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs. ... Junior QB Diego Gutierrez is among the nine starters back on offense. Offensive linemen Manny Garcia-Rivera, Jackson Ramos, Philly Vazzana, David Hernandez and Joe Midona all return along with WR/K Iggy Bielobradek, RB Ryan Novak and TE Luke Kumskis. ... Defensively, the Bulldogs have four returning linebackers in Drew Swiatek, Novak, Marques Turner and Marcus Moody. R-B has seven starters in total back on defense, which also includes DB Nate Padilla, DB Anthony Petrucci and DL Dillon Coen. ... Styler lists RB David Valencia, WR Mohammed Salem, LB Jack Grivetti, DL Gio Gonzalez and DB Jackson Drumheller as newcomers to watch. ... The Bulldogs will want to start quickly again this season with IC Catholic, Wheaton St. Francis and Bishop McNamara comprising the final three weeks of their schedule.

St. Edward

2021 record: 4-5

Coach: Mike Rolando

Worth noting: The Green Wave came up one win shy of qualifying for the playoffs for a third consecutive season last fall. They should be in the postseason conversation again this year with eight returning starters. ... The biggest concern for the program might be numbers with those eight starters playing both ways. ... Nolan Pomeroy, Tommy Wood, Owen Morgan, Nick Shannon and Jack Cozzi will form the offensive line in front of senior QB Luciano Rolando. Leading receiver Carson Busto also returns along with receiver Timmy Warner. ... Defensively, the secondary should be a strength with Warner and Busto at the safety spots. Manny Esquibias, Michael Cones and Charlie Elwood will man the cornerback spots. ... This season, the 18th for veteran coach Mike Rolando, will be his last. ... St. Edward opens the season at home against Platville (Wis.) and follows with a trip to downstate Taylorville -- two programs significantly larger than St. Edward

St. Francis

2021 record: 8-3

Coach: Bob McMillen

Worth noting: Following a 6-0 spring season, the Spartans were pretty young last fall but still managed eight wins and a Class 4A quarterfinal appearance. They enter this season as one of the top contenders in 4A with eight starters back on both sides of the ball. ... Offensively, St. Francis returns four starters on the line, led by senior OL/DL TJ McMillen, who is committed to Illinois and has racked up 34 offers. He'll be joined up front by senior Tyler Wood along with juniors Antonio Gutierrez and Jack Donovan. ... They'll be protecting junior QB Alessio Milivojevic, who threw for 1,517 yards and 11 TDs last year and has offers from Ole Miss and Bowling Green. ... Milivojevic will target senior Dash Dorsey and sophomore Ian Willis. Dorsey has nearly a dozen D-I offers, including from Nebraska and Missouri, and Willis started and made all-conference as a freshman. Senior RB/DB Amari Head had 41 carries for 247 yards last season and should see an expanded role. ... Defensively, McMillen and Wood will be key components up front along with Joey Ayala, Anthony Suriano and Nick Duzansky, who is committed to Oregon as a longsnapper. Senior Danny French and junior Dom Beres are returning all-conference players at linebacker. ... As far as newcomers, Bob McMillen expects senior WR/DB Connor Shields and senior DB Cam Engesser to make an impact. Sophomore WR/DB Deshaun Williams saw time in the 2021 postseason and holds an offer from Central Michigan. Junior OL/DL Dan Theiss is a transfer from Waubonsie Valley, and junior DB Corin Greenwell and sophomore QB Jack Reilly also saw postseason action last year. ... The Spartans open the season with back-to-back games against quality larger programs in Lake Forest and Sterling in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively. ... St. Francis has managed at least eight wins in each of the last three full seasons.

Five players to watch

Belay Brummel, QB, sr., Wheaton Academy: Brummel split time at QB last season, but it's his show this year. The senior has Ivy League and FCS schools offers with interest from Power Five programs.

Alessio Milivojevic, QB, jr., Wheaton St. Francis: Only entering his junior season, Milivojevic already has significant varsity experience and holds offers from Ole Miss and Bowling Green.

TJ McMillen, OL/DL, sr., Wheaton St. Francis: An Illinois commit with 34 college offers, McMillen will be a major factor every time he steps on the field for the Spartans.

KJ Parker, WR/FS, jr., IC Catholic: Already with offers from Iowa, Iowa State and Wisconsin, the explosive junior is likely to only see his stock rise this fall.

Kuba Tyskzka, OL/DL, sr. Ridgewood: He looks the part at 6-6, 270 pounds. Tyskzka has an offer from Valparaiso and is receiving interest from D-I programs.

Five can't miss matchups

Week 1: Wheaton St. Francis at Lake Forest -- The Spartans don't shy away from a challenge. We'll know exactly how dangerous Wheaton St. Francis is after this nonconference matchup.

Week 4: Wheaton Academy at Bishop McNamara -- Wheaton Academy took down the Fightin' Irish, 34-14, last season in Week 4 and solidified their position as a contender in the process.

Week 6: Wheaton Academy at IC Catholic -- Could the Blue Division title be on the line?

Week 8: IC Catholic at Bishop McNamara -- If Bishop McNamara bounces back after a somewhat uneven 2021 season, this game could be a fun one to watch.

Week 9: Wheaton St. Francis at IC Catholic -- A terrific crossover matchup between two potential state-title contenders to close out the regular season.

• Steve Soucie contributed to this report.

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