Super 25 football countdown: No. 5 Mount Carmel

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Mount Carmel was one of nine football teams in Illinois to end the 2011 season with a win on Thanksgiving weekend.

But the turkey dinner aside, current senior Buster Sheridan still was left with an empty feeling. That’s because the Caravan’s victory came in the Prep Bowl at Soldier Field rather than in the IHSA state finals at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

“We did play our 14 weeks, which was a goal of ours,” said Sheridan, who moved from defensive back to tight end this year. “At the same time, we knew there’s a bigger goal we can achieve.”

Mount Carmel, which is No. 5 in the Sun-Times’ preseason Super 25, will be looking for a deeper run in the IHSA playoffs after losing to eventual Class 8A champ Bolingbrook in the second round en route to a 10-4 finish last fall.

So far, so good, according to Sheridan, who ranks No. 1 in Mount Carmel’s senior class.

“The passing game looks good,” he said. “Protection has been good. Don [Butkus, a senior quarterback] is throwing great balls.”

Butkus is back for his second year as a starter after accounting for 1,660 passing and rushing yards and 25 touchdowns a year ago.

He has a capable receiver returning in senior Jason Gasser, along with a Division I recruit in the backfield in Draco Smith (740 yards, five touchdowns rushing last year). Also figuring to get carries in the Caravan’s trademark option attack are juniors Matt Domer and Jimmy Mickens.

“Domer’s a quick guy, Jimmy can punch the ball,” Sheridan said.

The offensive line is a work in progress, according to Caravan coach Frank Lenti, who became the state’s career victory leader last fall.

“We’re moving a lot of guys around till we get the right fit chemistry-wise,” Lenti said.

Some experienced players up front include seniors Nick Dreixler (6-2, 241), Brian Parker (5-11, 230) and Juan Beltran (6-1, 254).

There are impact players on the defensive side as well.

“Steven Richardson’s the guy everyone’s going to have to contend with,” Lenti said of the 5-11, 285-pound junior lineman.

Smith, who was recruited by NIU as a defensive back, also will get a lot of reps on that side of the ball.

Others to look for, according to Sheridan, include senior linebackers D.J. Romero (6-1, 201) and Connor Griffin (5-9, 175) and senior safety Justin Sanchez (5-11, 180).

Lenti likes the overall speed of the defensive unit. But he’s wary of what could happen if there are injuries on either side.

“To me, we’re very thin,” he said. “If we get one or two guys hurt, it could be a long season.”

And not the kind of long season Sheridan and his teammates would like to see.

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