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Nazareth’s Landon Morris, left, J.J. McCarthy, middle, and Tyler Morris, right, think the sky is the limit this year for the Roadrunners.
Nazareth’s Landon Morris, left, J.J. McCarthy, middle, and Tyler Morris, right, think the sky is the limit this year for the Roadrunners.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

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Breaking down Michael O’Brien’s Sun-Times preseason Super 25 football rankings

Nazareth quarterback JJ McCarthy is the first player in several years who is likely to tempt casual fans into attending a high school football game. 

Nazareth quarterback JJ McCarthy has garnered headlines for the past year now and he’s a household name among high school football fans. It’s going to get bigger than that. McCarthy is the first player in several years who is likely to tempt casual fans into attending a high school football game.

Roadrunners defensive end Ryan Keeler knows exactly why his Michigan recruit teammate is poised for stardom.

“We had a scrimmage on Saturday and he threw a few balls 60 yards down field and hit the receiver perfectly in stride,” Keeler said. “It was crazy, but that is our quarterback. It is good to have him.”

McCarthy is such a next-level talent that three receivers transferred to Nazareth from other schools (one from Indiana), even though the Roadrunners had good experience back at receiver.

Nazareth coach Tim Racki says the defense is a bit ahead of the offense early on and defensive tackle CJ West, who has several college offers, agrees.

“Oh man the defense is going to be lethal,” West said. “We have all these returning players with experience.”

It’s the first time the LaGrange Park school has been ranked No. 1 in the preseason, but Racki has led Nazareth to a ton of recent postseason success. The Roadrunners won the Class 6A title in 2014, the Class 5A title in 2015. They finished second in Class 6A in 2017 and won Class 7A last season.

“It’s great recognition for the school,” Racki said. “We are humbled by it, honored by it. This is nice for people to talk about and debate. What I like about having so many experienced guys is they know the real ranking is in November, the one that matters.”

1. Nazareth

McCarthy has a stable of talented receivers and promising senior Derrick Strongs at running back. Keeler, West and Marcus Griffin lead the defense.

2. Loyola

Loyola junior Perrion McClinton during a practice.
Loyola junior Perrion McClinton during a practice.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

It may take Ramblers coach John Holecek a few weeks to get his inexperienced defense up to speed but the offensive line, running game and talented junior quarterback Perrion McClinton provide a solid foundation.

3. Lincoln-Way East

The Griffins always reload. There is a question at quarterback, but Michigan recruit AJ Henning is healthy and will provide options all over the offense. The defensive line is strong and the team is hungry after falling short last season.

4. Maine South

Maine South’s Luke Leongas during a practice.
Maine South’s Luke Leongas during a practice.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Expect junior quarterback Luke Leongas to make an immediate impact. As usual the Hawks have moved some players around to different positions on both sides of the ball and have more experience than it appears. Week 1 at Glenbard West should prove a lot either way.

5. Batavia

Linebacker/running back Quinn Urwiler is a force on both sides of the ball, the state’s most underrated star. A lot will be expected of some new faces who face a major test against visiting East St. Louis on Saturday.

6. Richards

The Bulldogs have 15 starters back from a team that finished 12-1 and outscored opponents 495-119. Iowa-bound running back Leshon Williams averaged 9.7 yards a carry last season. Senior Javon Robinson takes over at quarterback.

7. Montini

Montini coach Michael Bukovsky runs a practice.
Montini coach Michael Bukovsky runs a practice.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The Broncos have played for the state title eight times in 10 years and the stable is loaded again. Seven starters return on defense and the offense is in good hands with quarterback Deontay Bell and a talented group of receivers led by Nate Muersch.

8. Naperville Central

Quarterback Sam Jackson is expected to be one of the standout attractions in the western suburbs. The Minnesota recruit has several talented receivers to target, including Marist transfer Jadon Thompson, an Illinois recruit. The defense should be very good but the schedule is a meat grinder.

9. Simeon

Offensive lineman George Robinson at Simeon’s football practice.
Offensive lineman George Robinson at Simeon’s football practice.
Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Corderro Williams, Ronald Haggins and Kenyan Butler are all three-year starters on the defensive line. George Robinson, Jason Shavers and Jalen Jones are three-year starters on the offensive line. The Wolverines may be the area’s strongest team in the trenches. Senior Jacquez Woodland will take over at quarterback.

10. Homewood-Flossmoor

Dominick Jones, one of the state’s most experienced quarterbacks, will lead an explosive offense. The linebackers and secondary should be rock solid.

11. Phillips

Highly-touted lineman Dominic Bass transferred but the Wildcats return a load of talent that gained valuable experience last season. Safety Ronald Pledger, a Western Michigan recruit, and lineman Demerick Morris, a Temple recruit, lead the charge.

12. Brother Rice

The defense should be strong with six returning starters and the addition of Denver Warren, a defensive tackle who transferred from West Aurora. There will be a ton of new faces on offense but junior running back Willie Shaw could be a star.

13. St. Charles North

Thirteen starters are back from the best season in the school history. Senior quarterback Kyler Brown and Nick DeMarco lead the offense.

14. Mount Carmel

Mount Carmel’s Kenenna Odeluga (36) intercepts a pass.
Mount Carmel’s Kenenna Odeluga (36) intercepts a pass.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The Caravan will play games on campus this season. Kenenna Odeluga, an absolute monster last season as a sophomore, returns at linebacker and running back. Second-year coach Jordan Lynch’s younger brother Justin will take over at quarterback. This is a young but talented group.

15. Warren

This could be one of the best defenses in the area. Five starters return including defensive tackle Willis Singleton Jr., an Iowa State recruit, and linebacker Juan Delacruz.

16. Glenbard West

Linebacker Greyson Metz leads an experienced defense for one of the state’s standout programs. The Hilltoppers host Maine South, a team that has dominated them the last two years, in the season opener on Saturday.

17. Barrington

Experience on both sides of the ball with 13 starters back, including quarterback Tommy Fitzpatrick and defensive end Lukas Van Ness, an Iowa recruit.

18. Prairie Ridge

Playing the underclassmen last season will pay off now. Sixteen starters return, including quarterback Connor Lydon. The Wolves are one of the area’s dependably good teams.

19. Oak Park

Oak Park quarterback Jaden McGill (6) stiff arms.
Oak Park quarterback Jaden McGill (6) stiff arms.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Junior quarterback Jaden McGill is poised for a breakout season. Defensive line is the biggest question mark.

20. Minooka

The Indians return 16 starters from the team that lost to Loyola in the first round of the playoffs last season.

21. Crete-Monee

Standout quarterback Trayvon Rudolph gives the Warriors a major threat but a lot must be replaced on defense.

22. Providence

Aaron Vaughn was one of the area’s eye-opening playmakers last season. The sophomore running back is one of 16 starters back for the Celtics, including offensive lineman Jake Renfro, a Cincinnati recruit.

23. Lake Zurich

It’s a strange mix of talent and questions with the Bears. Ron Planz is the new coach. Players will need to step up on both lines but there is an excellent foundation with quarterback Jack Moses, linebacker Bryan Sanborn and tight end Hunter Welcing.

24. Cary-Grove

Cary-Grove’s Blake Skol (20) steps into the end zone against Crete-Monee in the Class 6A state championship game.
Cary-Grove’s Blake Skol (20) steps into the end zone against Crete-Monee in the Class 6A state championship game.
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

Fullback Blake Skol, who scored 20 touchdowns last season, leads an always-potent option attack.

25. Marist

There are holes to fill and a very difficult schedule to deal with but the RedHawks have been one of the area’s most dependable programs recently. Keep an eye on Dontrell Jackson Jr., a sophomore quarterback with an Illinois offer.

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