2021 record: 14-0, 3-0 Orange
Coach: Jake Jaworski
Worth noting: Joliet Catholic is looking to reload after losing 16 of its 22 starters from last season’s team that won the Class 4A state title. The Hilltoppers have shown reloading hasn’t been a problem under Jaworski, missing the playoffs once in four seasons, where a postseason was held, while winning two state titles. JCA will look to win a 16th state title this fall. ... Senior T.J. Schlageter will take over as the starting quarterback after serving as Aidan Voss’ backup. Schlageter came into the Hilltoppers’ game against Benet last season and helped JCA come back to win. The senior recently committed to play baseball at Louisville. ... Senior OL Anthony Birsa will return as a leader on and off the field after being a starter last season. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound lineman committed to Northwestern over the offseason. ... Seniors Hunter Powell, Jeremy Johnson (6-3, 200), Billy Burke (6-3, 250) and junior Dillan Johnson (6-2, 270) all will return after starting on the defensive line last season. ... Senior Brett Mouw and juniors Aaron Harvey and H.J. Grigsby will split time at running back, along with Powell at fullback. Justin Bonsu, who has a couple of Division-I offers, will be the main wide receiver. ... The Hilltoppers will cross state lines to start the season when they travel to Waterford, Wisconsin, on Aug. 26 to take on the Wolverines.
2021 record: 3-6, 1-2 Orange
Coach: Mike Bukovsky
Worth noting: Montini failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1992 last season. The Broncos lost in the 5A state title game in 2018 under Bukovsky, who will enter his sixth season as the head coach. Montini players have used the summer to grow as they try to go back to the postseason. ... Senior QB Cole Teschner will return as the Bronco’s starting quarterback, and he’ll have a deep receiving corps. Junior Julian Turner, who had more than 50 catches last season, and seniors Mingo Nixon and Trey Barrett all will return after being the team’s top-three receivers last year. ... Junior RB Alex Marre will return after only playing in a handful of games last season before he broke his leg. Bukovsky expects Marre to be a major contributor. ... Seniors Luke Cushing and Mike Wind will return on the defensive line after starting last season, and they’ll be joined by a talented linebackers in junior George Asay and seniors Jonathan Goff and Caden Phengkeokaisone. ... The Broncos will have a tough final stretch to the season as they finish against Marist, Nazareth and Joliet Catholic, respectively.
2021 record: 3-6, 0-3 Orange
Coach: Tyler Plantz
Worth noting: Providence will have a new head coach in Plantz for the first time in 16 seasons after Mark Coglianese retired at the end of last season. The Celtics won a 7A state title under Coglianese in 2014 and appeared in the 6A title game in 2009. Plantz, a 2010 Providence graduate, takes over the program after serving in various assistant coaching positions under Brian Kelly at Notre Dame starting in 2015. The new coach served as captain and linebacker for the 2009 runner-up team. ... Senior Lucas Proudfoot and juniors Colin Sheehan and Kyle Lipke are battling for the starting quarterback job. Proudfoot has been the starter for the Celtics the past couple seasons, but Plantz enjoyed having the competition to see who would step up with a new coaching staff. ... Senior Mason Santiago and junior Byron Olson will be major contributors on defense as utility players. ... Plantz will have his work cut out for him as Providence plays three defending state champions, a state runner-up and a semifinalist from last year’s postseason. The Celtics play Wheaton North in Week 2, followed by Fenwick and Joliet Catholic, respectively. Providence will play Class 8A semifinalist Loyola in Week 7 and 7A runner-up St. Rita in Week 8.
2021 record: 4-5, 2-1 Orange
Coach: Adam Nissen
Worth noting: St. Laurence will try to return to the postseason for the first time in two seasons after finishing last season at 4-5 – there was no postseason in the 2021 spring season. The Vikings started the season 3-2 but lost three straight games to Joliet Catholic, Mount Carmel and Niles Notre Dame, respectively, before winning the season finale against Providence. St. Laurence will only have two offensive starters and three defensive starters returning from last season. ... Junior WR/S Corey Taubr returns as a starter on both sides of the ball after being a captain as a sophomore. Nissen called the junior explosive and somebody who can do different things with the ball. ... Senior transfer Danny Fitzpatrick and junior Evan Les are competing for the starting quarterback job. Junior interior offensive lineman Jack McGeehan will return. ... Senior DE Tommy Fus returns as a defensive starter and should be an anchor along with Taubr on defense. ... The Vikings start the season by traveling 165 miles to play Moline on Aug. 26, but they will play three of their final four games at home against Joliet Catholic, Mount Carmel and Niles Notre Dame, respectively.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
- Anthony Birsa, Joliet Catholic, OL, sr.: The big lineman will help open holes for the Hilltoppers’ rushers.
- Cole Teschner, Montini, QB, sr.: Teschner will have plenty of targets to hit this season, he’ll need to make big plays.
- Mason Santiago, Providence, UTI, sr.: Santiago will show off his skills from different parts of the defense.
- Corey Taubr, St. Laurence, WR/S, jr.: Taubr will return as a captain and play a heavy role on both sides of the ball.
- J.T. Schlageter, Joliet Catholic, QB, sr.: Schlageter will show off the experience he gained last year as he takes over as the lead quarterback.
|Joliet Catholic||Montini||Providence||St. Laurence|
|Week 1||@ Waterford, Wisc.; 7 p.m., Aug. 26||@ IC Catholic; 7:15 p.m., Aug. 26||vs. Lake Central, Ind.; 6 p.m., Aug. 26||@ Moline; 7 p.m., Aug. 26|
|Week 2||vs. IC Catholic; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 2||vs. Hillcrest; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 2||vs. Wheaton North; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 2||vs. Brooks; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 2|
|Week 3||@ De La Salle; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 9||@ Marmion; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 9||@ Fenwick; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 9||@ St. Ignatius; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 9|
|Week 4||@ Providence; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 16||@ St. Laurence; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 16||vs. Joliet Catholic; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 16||vs. Montini; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 16|
|Week 5||@ Crete-Monee; 6:30 p.m., Sept. 23||@ Leo; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 23||@ Marian Central Catholic; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 23||@ De La Salle; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 23|
|Week 6||@ St. Laurence; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 30||vs. Providence; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 30||@ Montini; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 30||vs. Joliet Catholic; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 30|
|Week 7||vs. Brother Rice; 7 p.m., Oct. 7||vs. Marist; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 7||vs. Loyola; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 7||vs. Mount Carmel; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8|
|Week 8||vs. Benet; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 14||vs. Nazareth; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 14||vs. St. Rita; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 14||vs. Niles Notre Dame; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 14|
|Week 9||vs. Montini; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 21||@ Joliet Catholic; 7:30, Oct. 21||vs. St. Laurence; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 21||@ Providence; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 21|
FIVE CAN’T MISS MATCHUPS
Week 2 – Wheaton North at Providence: This nonconference game will be the first of two straight against defending state champions for the Celtics.
Week 3 – St. Laurence at St. Ignatius: An early test for the Vikings against one of the conference’s fast rising teams.
Week 7 – Brother Rice at Joliet Catholic: A CCL/ESCC crossover game that will feature two of the conference’s top teams.
Week 8 – Nazareth at Montini: Another CCL/ESCC crossover game that could have large playoff implications.
Week 9 – Montini at Joliet Catholic: The division could come down to this season finale.
STEVE SOUCIE’S PREDICTED FINISH