Why was Matt Domer blowing up his Mount Carmel teammates’ phones in June, months before the start of the football season?
Because it’s never too soon for team-building exercises when you’re trying to defend a state title.
Only the skill players and the centers needed to show up for a 7-on-7 competition at Richards. “But I called the entire team to come out here and support each other,” Domer said that day.
“We have to start working on this, build a relationship now and it’s going to [carry over] to later in the season when it’s grind time.”
If the Caravan has the chemistry to go along with its talent, it could go a long way to living up to its No. 1 ranking in the Sun-Times preseason Super 25.
Here’s a look at the Super 25:
1. Mount Carmel
The defending Class 8A champ has a dominant defensive line with senior Big Ten commits Enoch Smith Jr. (Michigan State) and Steven Richardson (Minnesota) along with junior DeAndre Greer. Western Michigan recruit Deontae Brown anchors the secondary and linebacker Nick Johnson also is getting D-I interest. Domer, who’s headed to Illinois, is a three-star recruit and one of the state’s most productive runners.
Junior quarterback Willie Bourbon, already getting big-time recruiting interest in football and baseball, will lead a dynamic offense that also includes two receivers with NFL bloodlines: senior Matt Morrissey (committed to Michigan State as a defensive back) and junior Cameron Green. Zach Novoselsky (Western Michigan), whose dad also played for the Bears, is a stabilizing force on the offensive line.
3. Lake Zurich
With an experienced defense led by Syracuse-bound linebacker Colton Moskal and safety Sean Lynch, the Bears look primed for another deep playoff run. Quarterback Noah Allgood also returns for Lake Zurich, which has reached the Class 7A semifinals or better six times in the past seven seasons.
Once again, there aren’t a lot of marquee players suiting up for the defending Catholic League Blue champ, which was the only team to beat Mount Carmel last season. But like Lake Zurich, Loyola has a track record of playing deep into the postseason. To get to the 8A semis for the fifth consecutive season, the Ramblers will need big years from powerful RB Julius Holley, WR Joe Joyce and first-year starting QB Jack Penn.
5. Glenbard North
Last year’s Class 8A runner-up leaned heavily on Northwestern recruit Justin Jackson, who ran for more than 2,600 yards and 35 touchdowns and also is a lockdown defensive back. The Panthers, who must replace quarterback Brian Murphy (now a wrestler at Michigan), are still another team with a strong playoff tradition. They have two runner-up finishes and two semifinal appearances since 2007.
6. Wheaton North
The Falcons should have one of the most potent passing attacks in the state with four-star Northwestern-bound QB Clayton Thorson throwing to WR Matt Biegalski among others. If the defense comes together, Wheaton North could be a contender again in the tough DuPage Valley Conference and Class 7A.
7. Glenbard West
The Hilltoppers, 44-1 in the regular season since 2008, finally broke through in the playoffs last fall when they rolled to a 14-0 season capped by the Class 7A title. Hard-hitting defense has been the Hilltoppers’ calling card lately, and with DB Hayden Carlson back that isn’t likely to change. North Carolina State-bound OL Eric Shute will help open holes for a crew of talented backs.
8. Downers North
David Edwards was one of several sophomore quarterbacks who had breakout varsity debuts, leading the Trojans to the 7A quarterfinals after a 5-4 regular season. Expect Downers to be solid again behind Edwards and D-I linebackers Vontae Diggs and Richard Olekanma.
Players come and players go, but the Broncos keep rolling along in Class 5A with titles each of the past four seasons. The talent is there for another postseason run with DL Dylan Thompson, an Ohio State recruit; three-star LB Nile Sykes, a transfer from Oak Park-River Forest; and QB Alex Wills.
10. Lincoln-Way East
As usual, the Griffins graduated almost all the starters from a team that was runner-up in 7A. But few programs have the stability and legacy of success of East, which has had just one coach (Rob Zvonar) and hasn’t missed the playoffs in its 12 varsity seasons. Illinois-bound OL Nick Allegretti is one impact player back.
11. Hinsdale Central
A first-round exit in the Class 8A playoffs has been motivation for the Red Devils, who are hoping to peak later this fall. They’re led by the pass-catch combo of QB Chase Hamilton and TE Ian Bunting (Michigan) along with OL Brian Allen, a Michigan State recruit who’s also a defending state champ in wrestling.
12. Neuqua Valley
The Wildcats came of age in 2012, setting a school record for wins en route to a 12-1 finish and trip to the 8A semifinals where they nearly knocked off eventual champ Mount Carmel. RB Joey Rhattigan (2,226 yards, 30 touchdowns) and QB Dylan Andrew (1,647 yards, 20 TDs) are gone but Illinois recruit Mikey Dudek provides big-play capability at WR.
Few teams have as many talented skill players on the offensive side as the RedHawks, who will have QB Jack Donegan throwing to TE Nic Weishar (Notre Dame) and WR Flynn Nagel and handing off to RB Peter Andreotti. If an inexperienced offensive line comes together, Marist could have a special season.
Gone from last year’s 6A championship club are coach Jerry Verde (to his alma mater, Marian Catholic) and WR Laquon Treadwell (Mississippi), the Sun-Times Football Player and Athlete of the Year. But no one’s feeling sorry for new coach John Konecki or the Warriors, who return four-star LB Nyles Morgan, three-star DL Chris Slayton and DB Omari Stringer.
15. Maine South
The Hawks also are facing life without their best player — in this case, current Northwestern freshman QB Matt Alviti, who helped them win the 8A title as a sophomore in 2011. But OL Brendan Brosnan (Vanderbilt) and two-way starter Clay Burdelik are among the veterans hoping to keep Maine South among the state’s elite programs.
16. Waubonsie Valley
Workhorse RB Austin Guido has graduated from the 10-2 team whose two losses were 23-20 and 35-34 in double overtime, both to district rival Neuqua Valley. The Warriors have experience back on the offensive line and some talented skill players, including WR Christian Gibbs and RB Demario Webb.
No team improved more from 2011 to 2012 than the Redwings, who followed up a 1-8 finish with an 11-2 season capped by a trip to the 7A semifinals. Junior QB Jack Beneventi is one of the most sought-after local players in the Class of 2015 and Porter Ontko is a proven runner.
Playmakers like 6-4, 230-pound wide receiver Miles Boykin and running back Dominic Lagone will be expected to carry the load early for the Celtics while an inexperienced defense gets its bearings. If Providence stays healthy, it could be a player in the Catholic League Blue and the 7A playoffs.
The Bulldogs are coming off back-to-back 9-0 regular seasons — and a first-round loss to Downers North in the 7A playoffs. QB Micah Coffey, RB Anthony Scaccia and LB/RB Anthony Thielk will be trying to write a happier ending to this season.
This is the year the Bulldogs have been building toward with playmakers all over the field: QB Hasan Muhammad-Rogers, WR Tacari Carpenter, LB Romel Hill and DB Dylan Jiles.
21. St. Rita
A rare down season — 6-6 and no IHSA playoff berth — has the Mustangs looking for redemption. DB Lamar Dawson, a Syracuse recruit, leads the defense. Senior QB Tommy Mister, a transfer from Richards, and OL Matt Byrne pace the offense.
22. Joliet Catholic
A slimmed-down Michael Ivlow running behind big linemen JB Butler and Jalen Hansel could be an effective formula for the Hilltoppers, who are looking to qualify for the IHSA playoffs for the 37th time in 40 seasons.
If the Raiders can avoid the injury bug that bit them last year, look out. There are some big-timers on defense in four-star DB Parrker Westphal, DL Micah Dew-Treadway and LB Tuf Borland along with some impact players on offense including RBs Jaden Huff and John Hall.
24. Naperville Central
The Redhawks are hoping the duo of QB Jake Kolbe and WR Ben Andreas can help them get back to the 8A playoffs a year after a 4-5 finish and two seasons removed from a trip to the 8A semifinals.
25. WW South
One of the state’s premier programs fell on hard times last fall, going 4-5 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002. QB Ryan Graham and his teammates will try to get the Tigers back on track this season.