2019 record: 8-4
Coach: Rich Zinanni
Worth noting: Zinanni, entering his 46th season on the sidelines at McNamara, has won 361 games – third-most all-time in IHSA history. He could pass former Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti (374) next season. Senior running back Manny Harris was a Class 4A All-State pick last season, as he rushed for 1,334 yards and 19 touchdowns for a Class 4A quarterfinalist. He also played wide receiver and cornerback. The defense should be strong and fast with six starters returning led by senior linemen Andrew Arseneau and Matt Arseneau, junior linebacker Mel Hay and senior linebacker Caleb Smith. McNamara’s offense will be younger, relying on Harris and Smith – who also plays running back – to lead the way.
2019 record: 6-4
Coach: Dylan Mack
Worth noting: The Tigers are coming off their third consecutive postseason appearance, with the last two coming in Class 5A. Mack enters his fifth season and has compiled a 23-17 record at Elmwood Park. The Tigers won six games during the 2019 regular season and only one loss – Week 9 against Bishop McNamara – was by more than one score. Senior JJ Mazzola, who holds an offer from Carthage College, and junior Avian Matos return at wide receiver. Juniors Isaiah Solis and Michael Uyeda will anchor the offensive line. Senior defensive end Carlos Ballon had 21 tackles for loss and six sacks as a junior. Sophomore Nick Mora will step in at quarterback, and senior Danny Diaz should see work in the backfield.
IC Catholic Prep
2019 record: 10-2
Coach: Bill Krefft
Worth noting: The Knights, three-time state champs from 2016-2018 and a state runner-up in 2015, had their run of championship game appearances end with last season’s quarterfinal loss to eventual Class 4A champion Richmond-Burton. But IC Catholic isn’t going anywhere as one of the state’s elite programs. Senior running back Kyle Franklin, who committed to Indiana State earlier this year, has run for nearly 5,000 yards and 74 touchdowns over the last three seasons, and enters his fourth on varsity. The Knights are very strong at the skill positions with Franklin and returning receivers Chauncey Lee, an Eastern Illinois recruit, Justin Hall and Anthony Parille. ICCP is young up front, and defensively. Seniors Anthony Niecikowski and Alonzo Howard return on the line and Jadon Mims at linebacker, along with three starting defensive backs led by Lee. Krefft has never been shy about throwing underclassmen into the varsity fire, and that won’t change this spring. Sophomores Quinn Colbert, Jayden Sutton and Isaiah Gonzalez and freshman receiver KJ Parker will all contribute.
2019 record: 6-4
Coach: Brendan Curtin
Worth noting: The Bulldogs in 2019 made their fifth playoff appearance over the last six seasons. Junior quarterback/receiver/defensive back Owen Murphy is a Notre Dame baseball recruit and contributes all over the field. Entering his third varsity season, he’s one of several standout quarterbacks in the league. Senior linebacker/tight end Luke Swiatek led the Bulldogs in turnovers forced last season, and senior linebacker Jordan Medrano is a leader defensively. Junior Matt Novak is another three-year starter who served as a two-way impact player last season at receiver and defensive back. Key for the Bulldogs is identifying offensive line contributors to get the ball in the hands of their numerous scoring threats. In a scheduling twist, Riverside-Brookfield will be on the road the first three weeks, then finish with three home games.
2019 record: 10-2
Coach: Bob McMillen
Worth noting: The Spartans have re-emerged as a state power under fourth-year coach McMillen, with 18 wins over the last two seasons. The quarterfinal appearance in 2019 was the program’s first since 2014. St. Francis seems set up to keep it rolling with a deep roster and a group of transfers making this perhaps its most athletic team in years. Senior quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse, an Illinois State recruit, threw for 1,967 yards and 24 touchdowns and 493 yards and five TDs as a junior, and enters his third season as varsity starter. Junior Tyler Bishop had 27 catches for 327 yards and five TDs as a sophomore and senior Dartmouth commit Jackson Gerard had 17 catches for 329 yards and three TDs. The receiving corps looks loaded with junior Adam Criter, a Downers Grove North transfer, and senior Elijah Lee, a transfer from Waubonsie Valley. Sophomore two-way lineman TJ McMillen, who had 45 tackles and 6.5 sacks as a freshman, holds five Division I offers including Syracuse and Arizona State. Senior defensive end Tyler Duzansky, a Penn State commit, is the 11th-ranked long snapper in the country. Senior running back/linebacker Grayson Griffin, who transferred from Waubonsie Valley last summer, had a combined 179 tackles and seven sacks over the last two seasons. Also coming aboard is junior running back Terreon Roundy, a transfer from Naperville Central, and sophomore receiver Dash Dorsey, a transfer from Waubonsie Valley.
2019 record: 4-5
Coach: Jim Johanik
Worth noting: Johanik, previously the JV head coach for three seasons, was hired in March when Brad Thornton stepped down after seven seasons. The Warriors made three playoff appearances and went 38-37 during that time period. Trevor Donna, a senior linebacker and Kenyon College commit, is a two-time all-conference pick and was defensive player of the year as a sophomore. Senior two-way lineman Josh Friedland and senior linebacker Christian Carstens are committed to play at Wheaton College and senior two-way lineman Jered Samuelson to Indiana Wesleyan. Other players to watch are junior quarterback David Dorn and junior defensive back/wide receiver Niko Zepeda.
Aurora Central Catholic
2019 record: 1-8
Coach: Luke Brauweiler
Worth noting: The Chargers have won just three games over the last two years – but the switch to the Red, playing more schools its size, has Aurora Central set up for more success in this abbreviated season. Brauweiler said junior running back/linebacker Ty Hopp, the Chargers’ leading rusher as a sophomore, is getting Division I looks. Brauweiler is most excited about what Hopp can do defensively with his football smarts and ability to rush the passer or drop in coverage. Aurora Central’s line, with no seniors, is young, but has experience. Juniors Lewis Valencia and Chris Hames started as sophomores, sophomore Mario Maya as a freshman. Those three will play both ways, as will everyone in the Chargers’ program which is 25-deep at the varsity level. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Ryan Lee is a three-way starter on both sides of the ball who led the Chargers in all-purpose yards and touchdowns last season. Senior running back/linebacker Cam Cuttner is a two-year starter and senior receiver/defensive back Tommy Fowler led the Chargers in interceptions last season. Senior quarterback Bobby Scianna is in his second season starting, third season total at the varsity level.
2019 record: 5-5
Coach: David Beebe
Worth noting: The Eagles have made three straight playoff appearances after a three-year absence. Aurora Christian’s playoff exits the last two years came against Lena-Winslow, the 2019 Class 1A champion. The Eagles took a hit with the IHSA moving football to spring. All-State quarterback Ethan Hampton, who passed for over 4,500 yards and 59 TDs the last two seasons, graduated in December to early enroll at Northern Illinois. Trey Beebe, a junior wide receiver, is committed to play at Aurora University. Other top returning players include linemen Keegan Delaney, Max Garcia and Nathan Henry and linebacker Caleb Kok. Newcomers to watch include strong safety Cameron Colquitt, lineman Grant Henderson and linebacker Tramel Watts.
2019 record: 6-4
Coach: Nick Cook
Worth noting: The Knights reached the postseason in 2019 for a second straight season under Cook, who enters his fifth season as head coach. Chicago Christian fared well in its six wins, but it struggled against the top competition on its schedule, surrendering 40 or more points in three of its four losses. The Knights will be stout up front this spring with four returning offensive linemen, including Hunter Sperling (committed to Hillsdale College), the conference’s Lineman of the Year and First-Team All-State selection. He’ll be joined up front by AJ Kuipers, Otto VanDellen and Matt Haan. Returning skill players include seniors WR/CB Jake Kracinski (committed to Augustana College), RB/LB Aaron Coffey, RB/S Lucas Denman and WR/LB Ty Vos, along with juniors WR/CB Tony Barclay, RB/S Luke Edgar and WR/DB Luke Jelderks.
Elgin St. Edward
2019 record: 7-4
Coach: Mike Rolando
Worth noting: The Greenwave managed to win the Red Division in each of the last two seasons despite a relatively young roster. This year coach Mike Rolando is encouraged to have 14 seniors on the team, including nine three-year starters on offense and six on defense. St. Edward returns its two leading rushers in Joe Sacco (939 yards, 13 TDs) and Anthony Kirkwood (280 yards, 3 TDs), along with its four leading receivers: Zeke Rolando, Liam Pomeroy, Sacco and Clem McCullough. Zeke Rolando, a senior, however will make the switch to quarterback, a position he played until his sophomore year. The Wave also return four starters on the offensive line: Luke Sauceda, Aidan Pomeroy, Owen Gill and Max Kaufman. Seniors Eric Grogman, Tristan Merlin and Oscar Morgan could also see action on the offensive line, and many will see time on the defensive line as well. Defensively, Kirkwood is the team’s top returning tackler with 79, and McCullough registered six interceptions. Mike Rolando said his team will be tested right out of the gate with a Week 1 matchup against Aurora Christian.
2019 record: 3-6
Coach: Matt Walsh
Worth noting: The Rebels are coming off a third consecutive losing season after making the playoffs in three consecutive seasons from 2015-2017. Walsh enters his third season hoping some young talent can help bolster Ridgewood’s senior class, which includes RB/LB/TE Josh Martinez, RB/LB/TE Anthony Ryan, WR/DB Vasil Katsambas and QB Anthony Boccia. Walsh expects contributions from juniors TE/DE Jayden Chalabi and TE/DE Matt Karkoszka as well as sophomores RB/LB Jacob Chalabi and WR/DB Joey Clark.
2019 record: 2-7
Coach: Daniel Woulfe
Worth noting: The Sentinels have had only one winning season since making the playoffs in 2006. That came in 2018 when they went 5-4 but missed the postseason due to a lack of playoff points. Westmont struggled to create consistent offense in 2019, getting shut out three times and scoring 12 or fewer points twice more.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
- Kyle Franklin, IC Catholic Prep, RB, sr.: A compact, powerful back with the speed to break long runs, Franklin begins his fourth varsity season as one of the state’s better runners. With 74 career rushing TDs, he could reach the top 10 in IHSA history even in a shortened season.
- Tommy Rittenhouse, St. Francis, QB, sr.: Illinois State recruit is a dual threat with the ability to beat teams with his arm and legs. Third-year varsity starter is surrounded by a wealth of skill-position players which should make the Spartans’ offense fun to watch.
- T.J. McMillen, St. Francis, OL/DL, so.: It says something about McMillen’s abilities that he was a two-way starting lineman for a Class 4A quarterfinalist as a freshman. With five Division I offers before he played a down as a sophomore, he’s a player to watch in the Class of 2023.
- Manny Harris, Bishop McNamara, RB, sr.: Harris is McNamara’s man out of the backfield, and Zinanni considers one of the better players in the Chicago area. A jack-of-all-trades, Harris also lined up at receiver and defensive back, at least as a junior.
- Joe Sacco, Elgin St. Edward, RB/DB, jr.: Sacco totaled more than 1,300 yards from scrimmage during his junior season and totaled 19 touchdowns. The senior also made an impact on defense with three interceptions.
|Blue Division||Bishop McNamara||Elmwood Park||IC Catholic Prep||Riverside-Brookfield||St. Francis||Wheaton Academy|
|Week 1||@ Wheaton Academy; March 19, 7 p.m.||vs. Riverside-Brookield; March 19, 7:15 p.m.||vs. St. Francis; March 19, 7:15 p.m.||@ Elmwood Park; March 19, 7:15 p.m.||@ IC Catholic Prep; March 19, 7:15 p.m.||vs. Bishop McNamara; April 19, 7 p.m.|
|Week 2||vs. Riverside-Brookfield; March 26, 7 p.m.||@ IC Catholic; March 26, 7:15 p.m||vs. Elmwood Park; March 26, 7:15 p.m.||@ Bishop McNamara; March 26, 7 p.m.||@ Wheaton Academy; March 26, 7:15 p.m.||vs. St. Francis; April 26, 7:15 p.m.|
|Week 3||vs. Chicago Christian; April 3, 3 p.m.||vs. Aurora Central Catholic; April 3, noon||@ St. Edward; April 3, 7 p.m.||@ Ridgewood, April 3, Noon||vs. Aurora Christian; April 3, 1 p.m.||@Westmont; April 3, TBA|
|Week 4||vs. Elmwood Park; April 9, 7 p.m.||@ Bishop McNamara; April 9, 7 p.m.||@ Wheaton Academy; April 9, 7:15 p.m.||vs. St. Francis, April 9, 7:15 p.m.||@ Riverside-Brookfield; April 9, 7:15 p.m.||vs. IC Catholic Prep; April 9, 7:15 p.m.|
|Week 5||@ IC Catholic Prep; April 16, 7 p.m.||@ St. Francis; April 16, 7:30 p.m.||vs. Bishop McNamara; April 16, 7 p.m.||vs. Wheaton Academy; April 16, 7:15 p.m.||vs. Elmwood Park; April 16, 7:30 p.m.||@ Riverside-Brookfield; April 16, 7:15 p.m.|
|Week 6||@ St. Francis; April 23, 7 p.m.||vs. Wheaton Academy; April 23, 7:15 p.m.||@ Riverside-Brookfield; April 23, 7:15 p.m.||IC Catholic Prep; April 23,7:15||vs. Bishop McNamara; April 23, 7 p.m.||@ Elmwood Park; April 23, 7:15 p.m.|
|Red Division||Aurora Central Catholic||Aurora Christian||Chicago Christian||Elgin St. Edward||Ridgewood||Westmont|
|Week 1||vs. Ridgewood; March 19, 6 p.m.||vs. St. Edward; March 19, 7 p.m.||@ Westmont; March 19, 7 p.m.||@ Aurora Christian; March 26, 6 p.m.||@ Aurora Central Catholic; March 19, 6 p.m.||vs. Chicago Christian; March 19, 7 p.m.|
|Week 2||vs. St. Edward; March 26, 6 p.m.||vs. Westmont; March 26, 7 p.m||@ Ridgewood; March 26, TBD||@ Aurora Central Catholic; March 26, 6 p.m.||vs. Chicago Christian; March 26, TBD||@ Aurora Christian; March 26, 7 p.m.|
|Week 3||@ Elmwood Park; April 3, Noon||@ St. Francis; April 3, 1 p.m.||@ Bishop McNamara; April 3, 3 p.m.||vs. IC Catholic; April 3, 7 p.m.||vs. Riverside-Brookfield; April 3, noon||vs. Wheaton Academy; April 3, TBD|
|Week 4||vs. Aurora Christian; April 9, 6 p.m.||@ Aurora Central Catholic, April 9, 6 p.m.||vs. Elgin St. Edward; April 9, 7:15 p.m.||@ Chicago Christian; April 9, 7:15 p.m.||vs. Westmont; April 9, 7:15 p.m.||@ Ridgewood; April 9, 7:15 p.m.|
|Week 5||@ Chicago Christian; April 16, 7:15 p.m.||vs. Ridgewood; April 16, 7 p.m.||vs. Aurora Central Catholic; April 16, 7:15 p.m.||vs. Westmont; April 16, 7 p.m.||@ Aurora Christian; April 16, 7 p.m.||@ St. Edward; April 16, 7 p.m.|
|Week 6||@ Westmont; April 23, 7 p.m.||@ Chicago Christian, April 23, 7:15 p.m.||vs. Aurora Christian; April 23, 7:15 p.m.||vs. Ridgewood; April 23, 7:15 p.m.||@ St. Edward; April 23, 7:15 p.m.||vs. Aurora Central Catholic; April 23, 7 p.m.|
FIVE CAN’T MISS MATCHUPS
Week 1 — St. Francis at IC Catholic: Not a bad opening-night matchup. Their last meeting, in 2019, St. Francis snapped IC Catholic’s 33-game winning streak, the 20-19 Spartans’ win all the more impressive in that they rallied from two TDs down after Rittenhouse left with an injury. Skill-position talent galore on both sides sets up for a fun rematch.
Week 1 — St. Edward at Aurora Christian: St. Edward lost both of its crossovers against the Blue Division last season – first to Wheaton Academy and then to IC Catholic. The Greenwave will have to contend with IC Catholic again, but a much better measuring stick comes in Week against Aurora Christian.
Week 2 — St. Edward at Aurora Central Catholic: Yes, ACC struggled against its larger opponents in the Blue Division. Our guess is the Chargers fare better in the Red Division. This meeting will give us a much better idea if our assumption is correct.
Week 5 — Bishop McNamara at IC Catholic: These two have developed quite a rivalry in recent years. The Knights beat the Irish in the 2018 Class 4A final, and the 2019 game, a 31-27 IC Catholic win, was decided by a touchdown in the final minutes. Two of the best running backs around add plenty of sizzle to that steak.
Week 6 — St. Francis at Bishop McNamara: McNamara surely hasn’t forgotten these teams’ last meeting, a classic of a 46-43 St. Francis win decided by Rittenhouse’s TD pass to Tyler Bishop as time expired. It will be hard to live up to that one, but these teams have the talent to do it.
STEVE SOUCIE’S PREDICTED FINISH
|Wheaton St. Francis||6-0|
|Aurora Central Catholic||1-5|