Preseason Football No. 4: St. Rita ready to fire on ‘D’ cylinders
By Pat Disabato email@example.com August 25, 2014 9:26PM
St. Rita's Brandon Gaston and Simon Flores celebrate a touchdown against Hales after Flores recovered a St. Rita fumble and scored. | Stacia Timonere/For Sun-Times Media
Football Top 10
4. St. Rita
5. Joliet Catholic
6. Lincoln-Way East
8. Lincoln-Way North
9. Brother Rice
3. Coming Wednesday
2. Coming Thursday
1. Coming Friday
Updated: September 27, 2014 6:24AM
If defense indeed wins championships, St. Rita should find itself in position in 2014 to claim the vaunted Catholic Blue title and deliver an extended run toward the Class 7A state crown.
The Mustangs, who in 2013 won the Prep Bowl after earning a piece of the Catholic Blue championship along with Mount Carmel and Loyola, return seven starters on defense, led by senior linemen David Landstrom and Steve Abramowicz.
While the offense doesn’t have quite as many familiar faces (it has five), it boasts the personnel to either sustain clock-eating drives or strike quickly.
St. Rita checks in at No. 4 in the SouthtownStar Preseason Top 10.
“We have the tools to do some damage in the Blue and the playoffs,” St. Rita linebacker Matt Mitchell said. “If we can overcome adversity, we’ll be fine.”
Adversity reared its ugly head last week when junior Danny Gleaves, a returning starter in the secondary and part-time weapon in the backfield, was lost for the season with a broken right fibula.
Losing Gleaves, who made the SouthtownStar All-Area Baseball Team in the spring, is a big blow. While the Mustangs have a number of players to fill in at secondary, there’s no replacing Gleaves’ speed and big-play ability.
“Danny is a great kid,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “It’s tough. We were really excited about him. We’re going to miss him. He’s versatile. But we’ll regroup.”
Kuska was intending on rotating Tyre Lee (5-11, 195), Mateo Zunica (5-10, 180) and Gleaves at running back. Instead, Lee, a senior, and Zunica, a junior, will receive the bulk of the carries.
“Tyre and Mateo will be our guys and we’re excited about them,” Kuska said. “It’s a shame we’re not going to be able to use Danny. But we have some playmakers on offense.”
It will be up to senior quarterback CJ Weydeman to get the ball in the hands of those playmakers, including receivers Brandon Gaston (6-2, 185), Xavier Allen (5-9, 170) and Kurt Zeiger (6-3, 180).
Weydeman hasn’t started at any level at St. Rita, but Kuska is confident his senior QB will rise to the occasion.
“CJ looks good,” Kuska said. “He’s done really well in the summer and in practice. He’s going to surprise some people.”
Weydeman should receive ample time to make things happen, considering there are three two-year starters returning on the line in seniors Tom Schofield (6-3, 265), Terrance Roberts (6-5, 305) and Simon Flores (5-9, 255).
The Mustangs boast similar experience at linebacker, which will be patrolled by Mitchell (6-2, 225), Gerald Whitaker (6-foot, 205), Tom Rehfeld (6-1, 205) and Pete Duddleston (6-1, 235).
With Gleaves out of the mix, senior Marty Bechina (6-1, 205) will anchor a secondary that likely will include senior Eric Walker and junior Brandon Williams.
St. Rita, which lost twice to Mount Carmel during a 12-2 season in 2013, opens its 2014 slate at 6 p.m. Sunday vs. Simeon at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.
“Even without Danny, our defense should not skip a beat,” Mitchell said. “We may not have a superstar on offense right now, but Tyre can be that player. I think we can be as good, if not better, than last year. We have firepower. The chemistry and experience is there.
“We were part of a three-way tie for the conference championship last year. This year, we’d like to win it outright.”