High school football: Breaking down Michael O’Brien’s preseason Super 25 rankings

Mount Carmel coach Jordan Lynch had a point to make, one thing he wanted to say before fielding all the other questions about his preseason No. 1 team.

“We’ve been known as a talented team,” Lynch said. “I want to be known as a tough team and I think that’s what we have here.”

The Caravan pulled off a tremendous late win against Batavia last season in the Class 7A state playoffs but fell short at the end in a handful of other games. Lynch hopes the added experience and toughness turns that around this season.

His star offensive threat, junior running back Darrion Dupree, has set the tone in the off-season.

“He worked so hard,” Lynch said. “You wouldn’t think an athlete as impressive as he is could get more explosive, but he did. He’s got great hands and he understands the offense. He’s every coach’s dream.”

1. Mount Carmel

Mount Carmel’s Dennis Furlong (11), Blainey Dowling (7) and Darrion Gilliam (17) celebrate with teammates during the game against Batavia.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

All the pieces are in place for the Caravan to make a run at a 14th state championship. Quarterback Blainey Dowling is bigger and stronger and the defensive line should create havoc behind Asher Tomaszewski (Ohio) and Danny Novickas (Ohio). Read more on Mount Carmel.

2. Lincoln-Way East

Lincoln-Way East quarterback Chase Arthur (12) is forced out of the pocket against Oswego East.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Linebacker Jake Scianna leads a rock-solid defense and receiver Jayden Cook is poised for a breakout season. The Griffins return 16 starters and the sky is the limit if the quarterback spot is solid. Read more on Lincoln-Way East.

3. Loyola

Loyola’s Jake Stearney (15) runs down the sideline against St. Rita.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

The offense is ready to go behind Jake Stearney (Colgate) and an experienced group of receivers. Ramblers coach John Holecek will have to rebuild the defense behind defensive lineman Brooks Bahr (Michigan) but that’s his specialty. Read more on Loyola.

4. Batavia

Batavia’s Ryan Boe (21) passes against Wheaton North.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

It all starts with linebackers Tyler Jansey (Wisconsin) and Jack Sadowsky (Iowa State). Quarterback Ryan Boe should be much improved and has huge targets all over the offense. Read more on Batavia.

5. Bolingbrook

Bolingbrook’s offensive line completes a drill during practice,

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Two talented transfers, running back Joshua Robinson and receiver Kaleb Miller, join a talented offense led by receiver I’Marion Stewart. Expectations are high for senior quarterback Jayden Lawrence. Safety Damon Walters (Northwestern) leads a dynamic defense. Depth could be an issue. Read more on Bolingbrook.

6. St. Rita

St. Rita’s Ethan Middleton (84) is tackeld by Wheaton North’s Trent Gabriele (37) and Fred Elftmann (42).

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

A large, experienced line will create space for junior running backs Ethan Middleton and DJ Stewart. Quarterback will be a question mark early but the defense is strong with lineman Pat Farrell (Illinois) and the Kinsbury brothers, Matt and Joe, at linebacker. Read more on St. Rita.

7. Glenbard West

Glenbard West’s Joey Pope (2) jumps past York’s John Reiner (52).

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

It’s the largest offensive line in coach Chad Hetlet’s 16 years, which is eye-opening. Running back Joey Pope and quarterback Korey Tai will be the beneficiaries. Five starters are back on defense. Read more on Glenbard West.

8. Prairie Ridge

Prairie Ridge’s Nathan Greetham completes a drill during practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Fullback Nathan Greetham leads a group with six starters back on offense and five on defense. The Wolves should be the best team in the Fox Valley, which makes them instant Class 6A state title contenders. Read more on Prairie Ridge.

9. Warren

Warren’s Jailen Duffie catches a pass during practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

There’s excitement around quarterback Adam Behrens’ return to football and the Blue Devils traditionally have one of the state’s most aggressive, dominant defenses. Defensive back Jailen Duffie (North Dakota State) leads this season’s edition. Read more on Warren.

10. Kankakee

Kankakee’s Karson King (6) and Pierre Allen (8) celebrate King’s touchdown against Fenwick.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Senior Jyaire Hill is one of the state’s top talents. The Kays return 12 starters from a team that lost in the Class 5A title game. Running back Tony Phillips, a transfer from McNamara, is a signficant addition. Read more on Kankakee.

11. Neuqua Valley: Seventeen starters return, including quarterback Mark Mennecke and athlete Grant Larkin (North Dakota State).

12. Marist: Expect a strong defense led by defensive back John Nestor (Iowa) and senior lineman Jamel Howard. Senior Dermot Smyth is stepping up as starting quarterback.

13. Maine South: The Hawks don’t have a marquee player, but coach Dave Inserra has built one of the state’s most dependable programs. Quarterback Ryan Leyden gained valuable experience last season.

14. Naperville North: Quarterback Aidan Gray (Northwestern) and junior safety/wide receiver Luke Williams are two of the area’s top talents.

15. Crete-Monee: Josh Franklin (Western Michigan) is a highlight reel. The senior quarterback/receiver/running back may be the area’s most unstoppable offensive force. Senior receiver Lynell Billups-Williams (Miami, Ohio) is another breakout threat.

16. St. Ignatius: Workhorse running back Vinny Rugai is a difference maker and junior lineman Justin Scott is one of the top recruits in the country. Expectations are high after the Wolfpack shocked everyone by beating Mount Carmel last season.

17. Glenbard North: The Panthers flew under the radar last season until the playoffs. A load of talent returns on offense, including quarterback Justin Bland and receivers Johnnie Robertson and Zamari Robinson.

18. Prospect: Northwestern recruit Frank Covey IV is one of the area’s most intriguing talents, equally effective at quarterback and receiver. Safety Jack Berman (Navy) will lead the defense.

19. Willowbrook: Twelve starters return for the Trojans, which have won five consecutive West Suburban Gold titles.

20. Lockport: Only two starters return for the defending Class 8A state champs, but coach George Czart has built a program ready to reload.

21. Cary-Grove: Linebacker/fullback Colin Desmet is one of a few returners for the Class 6A state champions, but the Trojans are a proven power.

22. Joliet Catholic: Northwestern recruit Anthony Birsa, an offensive lineman, leads an inexperienced but talented young Hilltoppers squad.

23. Hinsdale Central: Experience returns on defense and the Red Devils have two quality quarterbacks, Ben Monahan and Billy Cernugel.

24. Jacobs: One of last season’s surprise teams returns a lot, including quarterback Max Brenner and highly-recruited junior tight end Grant Stec.

25. Lemont: Fifteen starters, including QB Payton Salomon, are back from a squad that lost in the Class 6A state quarterfinals to East St. Louis. Defensive back Noah Taylor (North Dakota State) and offensive linemen Jacek Blaszynski (Indiana State) are difference makers.

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