Loyola grabs the top spot. The Ramblers will host No. 2 Mount Carmel in Week 2.
Loyola has finished the season in the Class 8A state title game in six of the past nine years. The Ramblers won the state title in 2015-16 and 2018-19.
That isn’t news to any football fan, but is worth keeping in mind considering the next statement. This season the Ramblers have the most returning starters in coach John Holecek’s 15-year tenure.
That’s a scary thought for opponents, especially considering that several of Loyola’s top players are college-level talents, which isn’t always the case.
All that experience made the Ramblers an easy choice for the top spot in the Sun-Times’ preseason Super 25 football rankings.
Loyola has about 15 starters back, including quarterback JT Thomas (Denison) and running back Vaughn Pemberton (Ball State).
“That’s definitely a lot of experience back but nothing is perfect,” Pemberton, who rushed for 16 touchdowns last season, said. “There are definitely things we need to work on but I’m feeling pretty confident. Especially on defense, which is where most of the returning guys are.”
The Ramblers will be without offensive lineman Josh Kreutz this season. The Illinois recruit injured his knee and will miss all six games. But Pemberton has been especially impressed with one of his blockers in the first few weeks of practice, senior John Michael Talanges.
“I can’t wait to get back on the field Friday,” Pemberton said. “I’m so grateful we have a season. I just want to play with my friends and enjoy it.”
Loyola opens the season at St. Rita. Pemberton, a starter on the basketball team, says he hasn’t had any trouble making the transition between sports. But he isn’t sure what to expect after such a long layoff between football seasons.
“I think I’m faster,” Pemberton said. “But it’s hard to say what will happen in games. I just don’t know what my instincts will be like because it has been so long. Games are a lot different than practice.”
No. 2 Mount Carmel
There’s a ton of talent back for the defending Class 7A champs, including quarterback Justin Lynch (Temple) and running back/linebacker Kenenna Odeluga (Illinois). The Caravan are 25-2 in Jordan Lynch’s two seasons as coach and could easily have grabbed the top spot in the rankings. They will have a chance to grab that honor when the travel to Wilmette to face Loyola in Week 2.
No. 3 Lincoln-Way East
The perennial power just reloads. There isn’t much experience at quarterback but the Griffins have running back Jamal Johnson (Bowling Green) and receiver Mason Pierre-Antoine (NIU) to lean on offensively. The offensive line is experienced and Matt Kordas (Bowling Green) will lead the defensive backfield.
No. 4 Batavia
The Bulldogs have lost to JJ McCarthy and Nazareth in the playoffs the last two seasons, but that won’t be a concern this year. Coach Dennis Piron has a stable of talented players, including linebacker Matt Weerts (Arizona), receiver Trey Urwiler (NIU), offensive linemen Jackson Heeringa (Northern Iowa) and Breyden Ford (Valparaiso) and tight end Jack Valente (EIU). The linebacker group, led by Weerts, is very experienced overall.
No. 5 Brother Rice
Running back Willie Shaw (Toledo) is one of the area’s top talents and he’s surrounded by 15 other returning starters, including quarterback Jack Lausch.
Michael O’Brien’s preseason Super 25 high school football rankings
2. Mount Carmel
3. Lincoln-Way East
5. Brother Rice
6. Glenbard West
9. St. Rita
10. Naperville Central
14. Maine South
15. Prairie Ridge
16. Hinsdale Central
17. Wheaton Warrenville South
18. Joliet Catholic
22. Neuqua Valley
Contributing: Mike Clark