St. Rita eyes rebound season

St. Rita coach Todd Kuska has noticed a different vibe surrounding his team’s offseason conditioning and practices.

And he likes what he’s seen.

“There’s just a togetherness we haven’t seen every year,” Kuska said. “The guys dedicated themselves to getting us back to the level of football we want to be at.”

Namely, competing for Catholic League Blue titles — the Mustangs have won 24 total — and making extended playoff runs.

If St. Rita, the No. 6 team in the SouthtownStar’s Preseason Top 10, can execute its game plan and avoid the injury bug, it should have a chance at producing a season in which it competes for the Blue title and qualifies for the postseason.

Neither happened a year ago. The Mustangs were 0-4 in the Blue and finished 4-5 in the regular season.

“We had some bad breaks last year,” said Kuska, whose Mustangs finished 2-1 in the 2012 Prep Bowl playoffs. “We weren’t able to stay healthy during conference either. Our offensive line played one game together the whole season. We’re hoping to stay healthy.”

The Mustangs have a healthy dose of skill on both sides of the ball. Syracuse-bound defensive back Lamar Dawson (6-foot, 180 pounds) leads the defense. He’ll be joined by skilled and experienced linebackers John Regan (6-foot, 205) and John Connolly (6-4, 210), both seniors, and junior Matt Mitchell (6-3, 210). The D-line will be anchored by senior Matt Lurquin (6-foot, 260).

“We’re doing everything possible to avoid what happened last year,” said Connolly, a Mount Greenwood resident. “It’s not like St. Rita to go 4-5. We have a couple new guys on defense, but we have great leadership.”

It’s because of a new guy at quarterback the offense is expected to be a juggernaut. Tommy Mister (6-2, 205) takes over behind center after transferring from Richards in January. The Iowa State recruit rushed for 1,076 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012.

Mister won’t have to carry the offense. Senior Derrick Miles (5-7, 175) and junior Tyre Lee (5-11, 180) are explosive ball carriers in their own right. Mister also has a pair of savvy, speedy receivers in seniors Julian Crum (5-11, 170) and Malik Space (6-2, 190).

Kuska has some holes to fill on the line, but having senior Matt Byrne (6-4, 295) back will ease concerns.

“I’m just trying to lead by example,” said Byrne, an Evergreen Park resident. “We have to bring back the tradition of being a playoff team. Having Mister gives us even more athleticism. We’re very focused this year.”

Special teams should be a major plus with punter Nick Goldsmith, who averaged approximately 40 yards a punt, and kicker John Kelly, who is capable of reaching the end zone on kickoffs and converting field goals from beyond 40 yards.

“Guys have been getting after it,” Kuska said. “We have a very athletic team on both sides of the ball. Everybody on our offense has the ability to get into the end zone. If we stay healthy, I believe we can compete for the (Catholic League Blue) conference title and state championship.”

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