2022 record: 5-5
Coach: David Beebe
Worth noting: Aurora Christian has fostered an environment of a heavy passing game but the departure of quarterback Max Bray via transfer to St. Bede might cause a slight shift in the primary source of offense at least early on. Owen Hampton is a capable two-way performer and will likely carry a heavy burden for the Eagles on both sides of the football. Sophomore Drew Kegebin did well with a limited number of carries for the Eagles as a freshman and may take on more responsibilities early on as Aurora Christian breaks in a new quarterback to engineer its offensive attack.
2022 record: Bob Kelly
Worth noting: For the first time in over 50 years, the Fighting Irish will be led by a head coach with no previous ties to the school. Bob Kelly, formerly a St. Laurence assistant, takes over and inherits a program that will be heavily reliant on underclassmen to try to get the Fightin’ Irish back into the playoff mix. It won’t be entirely a youth movement, though, and Bishop McNamara does have an electric running back in Jaydon Wright, a Minnesota commit, capable of leading the way. Wright set game-high rushing records for yardage and touchdowns in a win over Aurora Central Catholic last season. Wright will perform double duty at the defensive end position as well. Other seniors that will be leaned upon are WR/DB Parker Wolf and WR/DE Liam McGrath. The coaching staff also has a bit of a professional flavor as former NFL offensive lineman Tony Pashos has been added to the staff.
2022 record: 5-5
Coach: Dan Chiarito
Worth noting: Chicago Christian caught fire at the end of the regular season, winning its last four games, to qualify for the playoffs but were rudely dispatched by Wilmington in the first round in Class 2A. If the Knights want to make a return trip they will do so under the leadership of a new coach in Dan Chiarito and a revamped schedule that frankly looks to be considerably more challenging than what it has seen recently. Brock Sperling played a huge role as just a sophomore last season and will see multiple roles largely on defense for the Knights. Running backs Jeremiah Oliver and Zeke Goble will likely be key cogs for an offense that hopes to get off to a good start in a nonconference slate that features a CPL squad (Sullivan) and a team that went winless in 11 games last season in Indiana (South Bend Clay) before starting league play against opponents that they largely haven’t had a great deal of success against in the past.
Christ the King
2022 record: 2-7
Coach: Elbert Muhammad
Worth noting: Christ the King’s scheduling issues were solved by joining this conference, but the Gladiators are going to need a rather dramatic step up in level of play to actually be in the mix of being competitive in their new home. Christ the King’s program began in 2018 and has never won more than two games in any season. They won two last year, both over a Walther Christian team that went winless on the season. Other than those two victories, Christ the King was shut out six times. They played four opponents last season that are in their new league and were outscored 220-0 in those games.
Elgin St. Edward
2022 record: 2-7
Coach: Shane Finnane
Worth noting: The Green Wave will try to get back on track under a new coach in Finnane. Finnane takes over for Mike Rolando, who guided the program to multiple playoff appearances in the previous decade – but St. Edward hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since an appearance in the Class 2A playoffs in 2019.
2022 record: 10-1
Coach: Christopher Mallette
Worth noting: Hope Academy has finally found itself a regular home in the Chicagoland Christian as it hasn’t been in a conference since being left out of the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference merger that began in 2019. While the Eagles have left independent scheduling by joining the league, the nonconference slate still includes one of the more unique matchups as Hope will travel to Solana Beach, California for a Week 2 matchup with Santa Fe Christian. Hope’s program has flourished in recent seasons and the program has nine consecutive playoff appearances to its credit. The program lost some quality seniors last year including Judah Mallette (Iowa), but plenty of talent also returns led by dynamic quarterback Eddie Jenkins Jr.
2022 record: 3-6
Coach: Liam Kirwan
Worth noting: The program that might have benefitted the most from the development of the Chicagoland Christian Conference could very well be the Hurricanes. After years of being one of the smallest schools in both the East Suburban Catholic Conference and later the CCL/ESCC, the Hurricanes are now in a grouping of regular opponents much more similar to its school size. And there’s plenty of reason to believe that Marian Central Catholic could make a quick splash in its new league. Led by two-way starter and Clemson commit Christian Bentancur, the Hurricanes have 11 returning starters that beyond Bentancur includes quarterback Cale McThenia and receiver Rylan Dolter. They were a big part of an offense in 2022 that averaged nearly 30 points per game. However, if the Hurricanes want to get back into the postseason conversation for the first time since 2017 something has to be done about the defense that allowed 38 or more points to all but two of its opponents last season and allowed more than 50 points in five games.
2022 record: 8-2
Coach: Jim Johanik
Worth noting: There’s really no disputing that Wheaton Academy is going to look different this season. Belay Brummel, who had been an impact performer at quarterback for the Warriors since his freshman season, is now graduated and walked-on at Cal. So the process of who would replace Brummel was first and foremost in the offseason plans as a trio of candidates are trying to fill those big shoes. But despite not having Brummel, Wheaton Academy still has plenty of players capable of leading the Warriors to a third consecutive playoff appearance. Four offensive linemen return from last year’s team including Ethan Brunner, who will perform double duty on the defensive line. The Warriors are also confident a linebacking unit paced by returners Brett Dieter, Jeremy Johanik and Brandon Kiebles should provide the foundation for a defense that tossed five shutouts in 2022.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
• Christian Bentancur, Marian Central, TE: Bentancur is one of the top collegiate prospects in the state. Committed to Clemson, Bentancur will likely be a nightmare for opponents to try to defend.
• Owen Hampton, Aurora Christian, WR: Hampton maintained the tradition of the Aurora Christian program that has historically had a lot of elite wide receivers. He’ll have to adjust to a new quarterback, but Hampton still must be attended to by opposing defenses.
• Jeremy Johanik, Wheaton Academy, LB: Johanik will serve as an anchor for the Warrior defense and will try to follow in the footsteps of older brother, Peter Johanik, who earned all-state honors in 2021.
• Eddie Jenkins Jr., Hope Academy, QB: Jenkins is an electric talent that played a big part in a high scoring offense put forth by the Eagles last season. With Jenkins under center, it seems likely that the offensive attack will be fruitful once again.
• Jaydon Wright, Bishop McNamara, RB: A Minnesota commit, Wright is capable of exploding at any time. Last season, Wright set school records for individual rushing yards and touchdowns in a win over Aurora Central Catholic not an easy feat in a school with a rich history of producing quality running backs.
|Aurora Christian||Bishop McNamara||Chicago Christian||Christ the King|
|Week 1||vs. Ottawa Marquette; 7 p.m., Aug. 25||@ Leo; 7 p.m., Aug. 25||@ Chicago Sullivan; 11 a.m., Aug. 26||vs. Walther Christian; 7 p.m., Aug. 26|
|Week 2||@ Wilmington; 7 p.m., Sept. 1||@ Herscher; 7 p.m., Sept. 1||vs. South Bend Clay (Ind.); 6:30 p.m., Sept. 1||@ Elmwood Park, 7 p.m., Sept. 1|
|Week 3||@ Hope Academy; 7 p.m., Sept. 8||vs. Marian Central; 1 p.m., Sept. 9||vs. Wheaton Academy; 7:15 p.m., Sept. 8||vs. Elgin St. Edward; 7 p.m., Sept. 9|
|Week 4||@ Elgin St. Edward; 7 p.m., Sept. 15||vs. Christ the King; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 15||@ Marian Central; 7 p.m., Sept. 15||@ Bishop McNamara; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 15|
|Week 5||vs. Bishop McNamara; 7 p.m., Sept. 22||@ Aurora Christian; 7 p.m., Sept. 22||@ Hope Academy; 7 p.m., Sept. 22||vs. Marian Central; 7 p.m., Sept. 22|
|Week 6||vs. Christ the King; 7 p.m., Sept. 29||@ Wheaton Academy; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 29||vs. Elgin St. Edward; 7:15 p.m., Sept. 29||@ Aurora Christian; 7 p.m., Sept. 29|
|Week 7||vs. Marian Central; 7 p.m., Oct. 6||vs. Chicago Christian; 7 p.m., Oct. 6||@ Bishop McNamara; 7 p.m., Oct. 6||@ Wheaton Academy; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 5|
|Week 8||vs. Wheaton Academy; 7 p.m., Oct. 13||@ Hope Academy; 7 p.m., Oct. 13||@ Christ the King; 7 p.m., Oct. 13||vs. Chicago Christian; 7 p.m., Oct. 13|
|Week 9||@ Chicago Christian; 7:15 p.m., Oct. 20||vs. Elgin St. Edward; 7 p.m., Oct. 20||vs. Aurora Christian; 7:15 p.m., Oct. 20||vs. Hope Academy; 7 p.m., Oct. 20|
|Elgin St. Edward||Hope Academy||Marian Central||Wheaton Academy|
|Week 1||vs. Aurora Central Catholic; 7 p.m., Aug. 25||vs. Whitney Young; 7 p.m., Aug. 25||vs. Richmond-Burton; 7 p.m., Aug. 25||@ Austin St. Michael’s (Texas); 7:15 p.m., Aug. 25|
|Week 2||@ Dwight co-op; 7 p.m., Sept. 1||@ Santa Fe Christian (Calif.); 4 p.m., Sept. 1||@ Milwaukee Academy of Science (Wisc.); 7 p.m., Sept. 7||@ St. Charles East; 7 p.m., Sept. 1|
|Week 3||@ Christ the King; 7 p.m., Sept. 9||vs. Aurora Christian; 7 p.m., Sept. 8||@ Bishop McNamara; 1 p.m., Sept. 9||@ Chicago Christian; 7:15 p.m., Sept. 8|
|Week 4||vs. Aurora Christian; 7 p.m., Sept. 15||@ Wheaton Academy; 7:30 p.m.||vs. Chicago Christian; 7 p.m., Sept. 15||vs. Hope Academy; 7:30 p.m.|
|Week 5||vs. Wheaton Academy; 7 p.m., Sept. 22||vs. Chicago Christian; 7 p.m., Sept. 22||@ Christ the King; 7 p.m., Sept. 22||@ Elgin St. Edward; 7 p.m., Sept. 22|
|Week 6||@ Chicago Christian; 7:15 p.m., Sept. 29||@ Marian Central; 7 p.m., Sept. 29||vs. Hope Academy; 7 p.m., Sept. 29||vs. Bishop McNamara; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 29|
|Week 7||vs. Hope Academy; 7 p.m., Oct. 6||@ Elgin St. Edward; 7 p.m., Oct. 6||@ Aurora Christian; 7 p.m., Oct. 6||VS. Christ the King; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 5|
|Week 8||@ Marian Central; 7 p.m., Oct. 13||vs. Bishop McNamara; 7 p.m., Oct. 13||vs. St. Edward; 7 p.m., Oct. 13||@ Aurora Christian; 7 p.m., Oct. 13|
|Week 9||@ Bishop McNamara; 7 p.m., Oct. 20||@ Christ the King; 7 p.m., Oct. 20||@ Wheaton Academy; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 20||vs. Marian Central; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 20|
FIVE CAN’T-MISS MATCHUPS
Week 2 — Aurora Christian at Wilmington: A very intriguing season-opening contest between two programs that have had a lot of success and earned state hardware. They haven’t met on the field in 13 years, when Aurora Christian earned an 18-16 win in the second round of the 2010 Class 3A playoffs.
Week 3 — Marian Central Catholic at Bishop McNamara: A Saturday afternoon matinee that features two of the top offensive prospects in the state with Marian Central Catholic’s Bentancur (Clemson) and Bishop McNamara’s Wright (Minnesota).
Week 4 — Hope Academy at Wheaton Academy: Hope Academy’s independent status has given them something of a hodgepodge schedule over the past few years, but this conference will now give them annual meetings with solid programs like Wheaton Academy.
Week 5 — Bishop McNamara at Aurora Christian: Formerly rivals in the Chicago Catholic League, there’s a bit of history between these two programs and not all of it is good. From the looks of things, a win here might be pivotal for both teams playoff fortunes.
Week 6 — Hope Academy at Marian Central Catholic: Neither one of these teams have had any problems scoring points in recent seasons so it looks like a matchup where the scoreboard operator could end up busy.
STEVE SOUCIE’S PREDICTED FINISH
|Marian Central Catholic||6-3|
|Christ the King||1-8|