Nazareth was supposed to be too young to make a deep playoff run last season. Nobody bothered to tell the Roadrunners though, who nearly upset Prairie Ridge in the Class 6A state title game.
“It’s all about peaking,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “Last year the best thing that happened to us was we got trucked by Marist. That game woke us up. A team could go either way after that. We were completely demoralized. We were out-coached, outplayed by Marist. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves we rebuilt everything from the ground up and started peaking. I was surprised. I wasn’t sure how far we would go in the playoffs”
All the talent that was allegedly a year away is now older and experienced. The Roadrunners are the No. 7 team in the Sun-Times preseason Super 25. There has been one major change though, the Illinois High School Association’s success factor rule has bumped Nazareth up to Class 7A.
“We will handle it pretty well,” senior Michael Love said. “I’m not too worried at all. Whether we are 8A or 2A, I don’t think it matters. Any team can bring energy and talent, it just comes down to us playing our hardest.”
Love is expected to play receiver in college at Bowling Green. He’s a running back, receiver and defensive back for the Roadrunners.
“Michael can play any position in high school football,” Racki said. “He’s a legitimate quarterback if we didn’t have a quarterback, that’s how versatile he is. He could have been a punter. We can put him literally in any spot. He has an off the charts IQ. He did a great job this summer leadership wise.”
- Nazareth’s practice. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.
- Nazareth’s Devin Blakley before a practice. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.
- Nazareth’s Michael Love during a preseason practice. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.
- Nazareth’s coach Tim Racki talks to his players during a preseason practice. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.
- Nazareth’s Nathan Lugo walks out to the field before a preseason practice. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.
- Nazareth’s Devin Blakley in practice. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.
Love’s brother Julian is a star player at Notre Dame, so it was odd that his recruiting took awhile to heat up.
“People think I’m too short,” Love said. “People say I’m too slow. But when they see me in person it is a whole different story. I bring a lot of electricity, energy on the field. I’m very elusive.”
Nazareth running back Devin Blakley, a Miami (OH) recruit, is also elusive. The Roadrunners are loaded with offensive weapons. JJ McCarthy will start at quarterback. The 6-2, 180-pound sophomore already has offers from Cincinnati, Indiana and Iowa State.
“We have a lot of different players that can make plays,” Blakley said. “It isn’t too much pressure on one guy. We are very spread. JJ is pretty accurate, I can run the ball and we have nice receivers.”
Nazareth has several multi-sport athletes playing football, something increasingly rare across the area.
“We have a lot of them,” Racki said. “[Sophomore running back] Alex Carrillo has really been killing it. He’s an all-state wrestler. He plays safety and running back and has a high motor. Louis Stec is another wrestler, he’s going to be a three-year starter. He’s old school, he’s going to play defensive line and offensive line. All our wrestling kids are real tough.”
Aug. 24 vs. St. Louis Lutheran North, Mo.
Aug. 31 at Lake Zurich
Sept. 7 at Marian Central
Sept. 14 vs. St. Patrick
Sept. 21 at Benet
Sept. 28 at Carmel
Oct. 5 vs. Marist
Oct. 12 vs. Joliet Catholic
Oct. 19 vs. Marian Catholic
This is the fourth story in the Sun-Times 2018 Football Countdown series. The No. 7 ranked team will be revealed tomorrow.
More football stories:
- Former Mount Carmel Coach Frank Lenti joins a rival school
- No. 10 Lake Zurich moves on from title game heartbreak, reloads
- Explosive Tyquan Cox ready to carry the load for No. 9 Glenbard West
- No. 8 Homewood-Flossmoor raises its defensive standards
Want the latest info and analysis on high school football? Our preps team of Michael O’Brien, Beth Long and Annie Costabile will share all the latest news, insights and Super 25 football rankings in a new livestream show called “Sun-Times Game Week.” Our next preview show is Aug 20 at 4:30 p.m., then the regular season livestream show will be every Monday at 6:30 p.m. starting August 27. Like and follow our high school sports Facebook page to watch the show on FACEBOOK LIVE. You can also ask questions using the hashtag #SunTimesGameWeek.