No. 6 St. Rita will lean on experienced running attack

Ethan Middleton and DJ Stewart, now juniors, will run behind a large, experienced line led by seniors Nick Strelczyk and Collin Gerger.

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St. Rita’s Ethan Middleton runs the ball during football practice.

St. Rita’s Ethan Middleton runs the ball during football practice.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

For St. Rita, last season was supposed to be all about Ohio State recruit Kaleb Brown. Instead, Brown was injured in the season opener and missed most of the regular season.

That opened the door for Ethan Middleton and DJ Stewart to get significant carries as sophomores. Last season’s unfortunate occurrence should benefit the No. 6 Mustangs this season.

Middleton and Stewart, now juniors, will run behind a large, experienced line led by seniors Nick Strelczyk (6-4, 310 pounds) and Collin Gerger (6-3, 250 pounds).

“The run game is definitely gonna be the heart and soul of the offense,” Gerger said. “[Middleton and Stewart] stepped up and played a huge part in the team last year. I wasn’t expecting so much production from them last year and they became part of the reason we got to the state title game.”

Tight end Eddie Vrdolyak and fullback James Kingsbury, one of the three brothers playing varsity, also return on offense.

The Mustangs will depend on some young receivers but the biggest question mark on the team is at quarterback.

“We are going to lean on our defense and our run game until we come of age a little bit in the quarterback position,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said.

Junior Jett Hilding (6-2, 180 pounds) and senior Michael Collins (6-3, 195 pounds) are the two contenders to start at quarterback against Mount Carmel Week 1.

“Whoever starts, his first game is going to be at Mount Carmel in the 100th meeting between the two schools,” Kuska said. “That’s going to be a little hairy. So getting those first-game jitters out of all the rookies is something we have to deal with. What a game that’s going to be.”

St. Rita’s Jett Hilding throws the ball during practice.

St. Rita’s Jett Hilding throws the ball during practice.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

St. Rita should have enough experience and talent to overcome some early growing pains at quarterback. Kicker/punter Connor Talty is an Alabama recruit and the linebacker spot is very solid with brothers Matt and Joe Kingsbury.

Defensive lineman Pat Farrell (6-5, 240 pounds) may be the team’s top talent. The senior, who added nearly 40 pounds in the offseason, has committed to Illinois.

“I’ve also been working on my speed and hands. I can just tell the difference in my game. Last year I was this 6-5 lanky kid on the field. Now I just put on a lot of mass and I can move all these big guys around.”

The Mustangs lost to Wheaton North in the Class 7A state championship game last season and lost to Rochester in the Class 5A title game in 2019. There were no state playoffs in 2020 due to COVID.

“Our core group has a tremendous bond,” Farrell said. “We all grew up together. I’ve known [Gerger] since I was really little. There are about 12 of us who have all stuck together since grammar school. We are all focused on getting back to the state championship and winning it this time.”

St. Rita schedule

Aug. 26 at Mount Carmel
Sept. 2 vs. Brother Rice
Sept. 9 vs. Loyola
Sept. 16 at Benet
Sept. 23 at St. Patrick
Sept. 30 at Nazareth
Oct. 7 vs. Marian Central
Oct. 14 at Providence
Oct. 21 vs. Notre Dame

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