Super 25 countdown: No. 21 St. Rita

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Matt Byrne isn’t going to make any guarantees about victories, losses or playoff success.

But the St. Rita senior has no trouble predicting one thing: This group of Mustangs isn’t going to take winning for granted.

That’s what happens in the wake of a season like 2012, when St. Rita went 6-6, missed the IHSA playoffs for the first time since 1999 and failed to finish above .500 for the first time since 1998.

‘‘I know it’s been a lot of motivation,’’ said Byrne, a 6-4, 295-pound offensive lineman. ‘‘A lot of the upperclassmen learned a lot from that season.’’

Among the lessons for the Mustangs, who are ranked No. 21 in the Sun-Times’ preseason Super 25, is the value of pulling in the same direction.

‘‘Team chemistry needs to be one of the biggest things,’’ Byrne said.

From what coach Todd Kuska has seen so far, St. Rita is in good shape in that department.

‘‘We have a hungrier team this year,’’ Kuska said. ‘‘We didn’t get to taste the spoils last year.’’

If that changes this season, someone who figures to play a big role in making it happen is senior quarterback Tommy Mister. He wasn’t around last fall, having transferred during the offseason from Richards, but he has made a good first impression.

‘‘Tommy is a great athlete,’’ Byrne said of the 6-2, 205-pound Iowa State recruit. ‘‘He’s a very hard-working player. That’s one of the things I admire.’’

Mister, who ran for 1,076 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns last season, can cause defenses headaches with his arm and his feet.

‘‘He adds a different dimension to the offense,’’ Kuska said.

There is talent surrounding Mister, too. Senior Derrick Miles averaged 5.2 yards per carry, and junior Tyree Lee averaged eight yards per carry in limited action. Two seniors — Julian Crum and Malik Space — are capable targets for Mister when he decides to throw. And 6-2, 185-pound junior Brandon Gaston will be in the receiver mix, too. Gaston is the brother of former Mustangs star Bruce Gaston, a senior at Purdue.

‘‘Things aren’t going to change much,’’ Kuska said. ‘‘We’re going to run the football and use the run to set up the pass.’’

The defense is led by Syracuse-bound defensive back Lamar Dawson, who had 60 tackles and eight interceptions last season. St. Rita also has an experienced linebacking corps, with seniors John Regan and John Connolly being joined by junior Matt Mitchell, who moves up from safety. Senior Mike Lurquin is back to anchor the defensive line.

‘‘The defense is younger, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be a weak spot,’’ Byrne said.

How all the pieces will come together remains to be seen. The Mustangs open at Soldier Field against fellow South Side power Marist and have to run the usual gantlet of the Catholic League Blue.

But Kuska likes the attitude so far.

‘‘We’ve had some pretty intense practices, as intense as you can be with your own teammates,’’ he said. ‘‘They weren’t happy with how we ended the [2012] season.’’

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