No. 6 Marist doesn’t return many starters from the spring season, but the RedHawks have two of the top talents in the area in quarterback Dontrell Jackson Jr. and offensive lineman Deuce McGuire.
Coach Ron Dawczak said Jackson, a Coastal Carolina recruit who has been a highly regarded player his entire career, has impressed in practice this summer.
”He’s been dynamic,” Dawczak said. ”This is his third year on varsity. The reads are quicker. He’s really progressing with the reads and getting rid of the ball. He’s a tremendous athlete and buys time in the pocket and can run, which is a really dangerous element that teams have to account for. He’s just a special player.”
Jackson’s father was a quarterback at Ohio University, and his grandfather is former Proviso East and Thornton basketball coach Troy Jackson.
”We are coming out with the mentality to just dominate on every play and be fierce,” Jackson Jr. said. ”We want to make it to the state championship. If we keep working hard and making each other better at practice, we will get there.”
Jackson will have McGuire, a Northwestern recruit, and three other starters back on the offensive line.
”The line has been playing together for countless years,” McGuire said. ”We all started together as freshmen, and two of us have played together since fourth grade. We’re very close.”
Senior Jaylen Johnson will be the starting running back, and junior Ryan Sims could have a breakout season at receiver. The RedHawks’ offense should be one of the most effective in the state.
”Johnson is a tough, hard-nosed player who will fight to get the tough yards,” Dawczak said.
Marist only returns three starters on defense, so that’s where the question marks will be. Linebacker Jimmy Rolder, who had a knack for making big plays in the spring, said he isn’t worried.
Marist linebacker Jimmy Rolder chases the play at practice in Chicago.Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times
”The chemistry is good with all the younger guys,” Rolder said. ”Even though we lost a lot, the talent is there. It’s a new defensive line coming in, looking to prove what they can do.”
Seniors Jayson Harris and Aidan Smith are expected to step up and anchor the defensive line. Nick Verzoni, Johnny Nestor and Sammy Laurencell are the names to watch in the secondary.
The RedHawks play in the best conference in the state, the East Suburban Catholic/Chicago Catholic Blue, so the season will be challenging. But imagine if Marist and Brother Rice saunter into the ”Battle of Pulaski” undefeated in Week 9. A victory in that game would give either team a massive boost heading into the state playoffs.
”A state championship is always the ultimate goal,” Dawczak said. ”But we don’t focus on that. We just need to be as prepared as we can each week to win that game, then have that build throughout the season. Hopefully by doing that, we’re giving ourselves the best chance to be successful to reach that ultimate goal.”
Aug. 27 vs. Curie
Sep. 3 vs. Richards
Sep. 10 vs. Nazareth
Sep. 17 at Mount Carmel
Sep. 24 at Marmion
Oct. 2 at Loyola
Oct. 8 vs. Montini
Oct. 15 at Carmel
Oct 22 vs. Brother Rice