To say that Montini Catholic has maintained a stranglehold on the Class 5A state football title over the past few seasons is an understatement.
The Broncos and veteran head coach Chris Andriano are going for their fifth straight 5A state title in 2013. On paper, the team appears to have a great shot at winning it all again, but a tough field stands ahead in the 2013 season.
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Here are five roadblocks that could stand in the way in the way for Montini Catholic heading into the upcoming season.
1. The schedule/conference: Year in and year out, no one in this state can say they schedule non-conference games as well or as aggressively as Montini does.
The Broncos will open up at home against Class 8A power Maine South. In Week 2, Montini hops aboard the yellow rockets and heads down to East St. Louis (6A/7A) to play in the annual City of Champions Classic against the Flyers.
The Flyers look to be as loaded as ever with several Division 1 recruits on board (2014 verbal commits LB Kyron Watson/Kansas DB Greg Taylor/Missouri and ATH Treevon Prater/Western Michigan), plus two of the top prospects in the nation for the Class of 2015 in junior RB Nate Strong and junior DE Terry Beckner Jr.
This also happens to be the final year of the Suburban Christian Blue conference and the Broncos will need to face the likes of Wheaton St. Francis, Marian Central Catholic, Aurora Christian (2011/2012 3A state champions) and Marmion Academy. Due to the IHSA geographical playoff system, the odds are in Montini's favor.
2. Health: See above. When you play such tough non-conference opponents early on, it takes a physical toll. The Broncos danced the injury dance throughout the regular season, and fortunately the team was able to get healthy at the right time of the year.
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Montini always has talent and always has numbers, but even the biggest rosters and schools have limited depth. In some years, the injury bug bites harder than others. Never let it be said that a bit of luck doesn't factor into a successful state title run and staying relatively healthy in any football season required some good fortune.
3. Sycamore: The Spartans gave the Broncos everything they could handle in last year's 24-22 come-from-behind win.
Spartans head coach Joe Ryan welcomes back 18 starters from last season, and I'm willing to bet the two-point loss won't be forgotten in Sycamore anytime soon. Keep an eye on senior ATH Ben Niemann (6-foot-4, 195 pounds), who gave Iowa his verbal commitment a few weeks ago. Niemann, son of NIU assistant coach Jay Niemann, was offered by the Hawkeyes as an outside linebacker prospect.
4. Kaneland: The Knights faded into the state playoffs pretty quietly in 2012, suffering a 35-0 shutout loss to up-and-coming Lincoln-Way West in the opening round. Yet what people didn't see was the Knights offense was slowed by a late-season injury to standout senior QB Drew David, which derailed a very potent passing attack.
The Knights welcome back 15 starters for 2013, and Kaneland also has a very strong senior class back with serious game experience. Keep an eye out for David, along with RB/LB Jesse Balluf, OL/DL Joe Komel, OL/DL Justin Diddell, OL/DL Jamario Phillips plus TE Tyler Slamans. Also senior K Matt Rodriguez is a big time weapon for the Knights as well.
5. The rest of 5A: So far this preseason, the remainder of the Class 5A field on paper looks as loaded as ever. Joliet Catholic, Morris, Lincoln-Way West, Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin, Glenwood, Jacksonvile and the Peoria area schools (Metamora/Washington/Richwoods) always have a say so. All look to be "up" again in 2013.