Most of the high school football players in the state have never played in a playoff game. It isn’t their fault, that’s the current reality thanks to COVID.
That isn’t the case at St. Rita. The top-ranked Mustangs have three players back that started in the Class 5A state title game three years ago: star running back Kaleb Brown, quarterback Tommy Ulatowski and offensive lineman Valen Erickson.
Brown is the state’s top player, an Ohio State recruit. He’s a running back/wide receiver with devastating speed. Brown’s been a headline-grabber for the past three seasons, but this year will be different.
Area fans and Bucknuts (Ohio State football fans) will be watching Brown’s every move this season. He’s ready.
“I’m looking forward to all of it, even the pressure,” Brown said. “I know a lot of people will be after me. I’m ready. I’m going to play smart.”
The 5-11, 177-pound senior has scored touchdowns as a running back, wide receiver, quarterback, punt returner and kick returner so far in his career.
“Grabbing a pick for a touchdown is all that is left,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “That’s not in the plans just yet.”
The Mustangs return about seven starters on both offense and defense and have added several key transfers, including running back Kyle Clayton from Phillips.
“Rankings are great for PR,” Kuska said. “But if your kids have the right mentality it doesn’t matter where you are ranked. And I believe our kids have that mentality.”
“It’s our job to come on the field and show that we are No. 1,” Brown said. “Not everyone will see us that way now. It’s up to us to go out and execute.”
St. Rita was the only team to give Loyola a challenge in the spring. The Mustangs lost 7-3 and it is still on Brown’s mind.
“Honestly, this year will be a failure if we don’t win state,” Brown said. “I want it bad. Real bad. And Loyola. I want to beat them. I haven’t done that in high school so I want to accomplish that.”
St. Rita will likely be a Class 5A team. The Mustangs face Loyola Week 3.
St. Rita quarterback Tommy Ulatowski (4) passes to his receiver at practice.Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times
“We have a chip on our shoulder this year,” Ulatowski said. “After three years on varsity we feel like we are the best at all times out there.”
The entire offensive line, led by Ericksen (a Nebraska recruit), Roco Velenti, Logan Blake and Collin Gerger, returns.
Kuska is expecting big things from senior wide receiver EJ Nwagwu.
“He’s a track star,” Kuska said. “Last year we had three D1 receivers and it was tough to crack the lineup. He’ll be a big target for Tommy.”
Linebacker/defensive lineman Djabril McNabb, who had seven sacks in the spring, will lead the defense.
“You should expect us to be flying and make every tackle,” McNabb said. “We’re short but we fly to the ball. All 11 men. Speed kills.”
The defensive backfield should be a strength. Starters Liam Bartos, BJ Hall and Jake Lehtinen are back. Senior Jake Polselli leads an experienced defensive line.
Everything is in place for a historic season at 77th and Western. And the Mustangs will find out who they are very, very quickly.
“The schedule starts out really loaded,” Kuska said. “The first three games are like playing in the Big Ten. Mount Carmel, then we go play a nationally-ranked team in Kentucky and then Loyola.”
ST. RITA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Aug. 27 vs. Mount Carmel
Sep. 3 at Louisville Trinity, Ky.
Sep. 11 at Loyola
Sep. 17 vs. Benet
Sep. 24 vs. St. Patrick
Oct. 1 vs. Nazareth
Oct. 8 at Marian Central
Oct. 15 vs. Providence
Oct. 22 at Notre Dame