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Disabato: Consider St. Rita football rededicated to returning to elite level

St. Ritlinemen hit sled during first day football practice for 2013 season. | Vincent D. Johnson~For Sun-Times Media

St. Rita linemen hit the sled during the first day of football practice for the 2013 season. | Vincent D. Johnson~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 17, 2013 7:58AM



Injuries and ego can have a devastating effect on a team’s season.

No one knows that better than St. Rita.

A rash of injuries and a few inflated egos resulted in a 4-5 regular season in 2012. It marked the first time in 12 seasons St. Rita, a two-time state champion and winner of 24 Catholic League titles, didn’t qualify for the state playoffs.

“It was very disappointing to be the first team to not make the playoffs here in a long time,” said Julian Crum, a senior receiver from Country Club Hills. “We had a bunch of kids with concussions and other injuries and we didn’t play together. We had a whole lot of talent, but we weren’t all on the same page last year. We’re all on the same page this year.”

That’s precisely what I took away from watching St. Rita’s first practice Wednesday. It was very businesslike. No screaming or yelling, from either coaches or players, during an efficient and focused morning session.

No question, this is a team that was practicing like it has something to prove in 2013.

“We’re hungry,” said John Connolly, a linebacker and captain from the Mount Greenwood community. “We might have underestimated a few teams last year. We won’t do that this year. We’re doing everything possible to avoid repeating last season. St. Rita teams don’t go 4-5. We’re very hungry to bring back the tradition of winning to St. Rita.”

One of the benefits of finishing 4-5 is the likelihood of flying under the radar the ensuing season. That’s the position the Mustangs find themselves. Most of the attention in the Catholic League Blue squarely is focused on Mount Carmel, the defending Class 8A state champion that returns five Division I standouts. Make no mistake, the Caravan is the team to beat.

However, I’d keep an eye on St. Rita. Lower-level accomplishments mean little when it comes time to gauging varsity success, but the Mustangs’ senior class was 9-0 as freshmen and the junior class 8-1 on the freshman level.

I can verify there were some big linemen walking around practice and some difference-makers at the skill positions Wednesday, starting with quarterback Tommy Mister.

Opponents likely will focus much of their attention on Mister, who transferred from Richards in January and recently committed to Iowa State.

Mister, however, is just one part of a potentially explosive offense. The 1-2 punch in the backfield of Tyre Lee and Derrick Miles could cause fits, along with the tandem at receiver in Crum and Malik Space.

“We have running backs and receivers that can take it to the house at any time,” Mister said.

Beyond the talent and desire for redemption, the intangible that could carry this team a long way is chemistry. It’s a term that’s overused in sports. But there’s considerable value in teammates striving for the same goals and having the willingness to run through a wall for one another.

Some players on last year’s team had their own agenda. When times got tough, whether it was physical injuries or bruised egos, the team failed to fully come together. This group has learned from that experience and has demanded that egos be left at the locker room door.

“We’re going to stay together and be a family,” said Mike Lurquin, a captain and two-way lineman from Oak Lawn. “When we started morning workouts, we came together as a team. It’s good knowing your brother next to you always has your back.”

Coach Todd Kuska is optimistic. So much, in fact, he didn’t hesitate when asked what the goals were this year.

“If we stay healthy, we can compete for the conference and state championship,” he said. “I see a lot of motivation from this group. These guys came together right after the season last year. There’s a togetherness we haven’t seen every year. Sometimes, you have to go through things to get to where you want to be.

“It was a great group of guys last year but they didn’t play together at times and we had some bad breaks. These guys have done everything in their power during the offseason to put themselves in position to succeed.”

Now it’s a matter of avoiding the injury bug.



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