Preseason Football No. 2: After back-to-back state titles, Mount Carmel brings different look to ’14 season
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org August 27, 2014 8:56PM
Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti (right) talks with quarterback Anthony Thompson. | Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times Media
2. Mount Carmel
4. St. Rita
5. Joliet Catholic
6. Lincoln-Way East
8. Lincoln-Way North
9. Brother Rice
1. Coming Friday
Updated: August 28, 2014 2:22AM
Beyond its inner circle, little is known about Mount Carmel this season.
Much of the starting lineup largely is composed of players who are preparing for their first seasons as starters.
However, a lack of familiarity should not be construed as weakness — not when it comes to the 11-time state champion Caravan.
During Frank Lenti’s remarkable 30-year tenure, Mount Carmel never has finished below .500.
It’s a program that doesn’t rebuild, it reloads.
Despite the lack of star power, there’s no reason to believe the Caravan, ranked No. 2 in the SouthtownStar Preseason Top 10, won’t record its third consecutive state championship in 2014.
“I like what I see,” Lenti said. “It’s going to have to be a team effort.”
The offense returns one starter, 6-3, 291-pound guard Jack White. However, the young men in the mix to fill the remaining spots on the line have one common attribute: size. Seniors AJ Duerig (6-3, 278) and Marcus Van Arkel (5-11, 250) and juniors Matthew Reyes (5-9, 288), LaVelle Houston (5-11, 280) and Matt McKay (5-11, 250) bring major heft.
“They’re big kids, but that doesn’t mean they’re good football players,” Lenti said.
If the big boys can consistently block, the Caravan boasts the playmakers to execute its option attack.
It all starts with quarterback Anthony Thompson. The junior has the physical attributes to excel, but to run the Caravan’s offense at a high efficiency, it demands the quarterback makes proper decisions. The biggest among them: when to hand off and when to tuck the ball and take it yourself.
Thompson doesn’t have an established running back at his disposal. Gone to graduation are 2013 stalwarts Matt Domer and Jimmy Mickens. Thompson has a trio of potentially dangerous ballcarriers in senior Jaquan Bunton (504 yards rushing in 2013) and Niko Vjestica (5-7, 200) and junior A.J. Lewis (5-9, 177). Another senior, Kyle Czubak (5-8, 165), and junior Anthony Ries (5-9, 177), could find their way into the mix.
“We might have as many as five guys rotating at running back,” Lenti said. “When Matt Domer was a junior, he wasn’t the guy to carry the load for us. People forget that. I like our guys.”
It’s impossible for this year’s defense to meet the production of its predecessor, which allowed just 96 points in 14 games last season.
Talents such as Steven Richardson (Minnesota) and Enoch Smith (Michigan State) don’t come around very often, much less land in the same graduating class.
“A defense like that is a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” Lenti said. “It will go down as one of the best defenses in the history of the state of Illinois.”
This year’s defense welcomes back four starters from last season: tackle DeAndre Greer (5-10, 267), linebacker Troy Weissenhofer (5-10, 230), cornerback Marquise Peggs (5-10, 170) and safety Colin Knusta (6-foot, 180). All are seniors.
Greer is a young man in demand, having been offered scholarships by Missouri, Illinois and Michigan State, among others. His younger brother, junior Terrell Greer (5-9, 255), is ready to make a name for himself on the D-line.
Lenti doesn’t buy into his players feeling pressure to live up to the program’s rich tradition. In the case of this team, however, it’s not only the pressure to produce a winning record, but to record a state title three-peat. The Caravan beat Glenbard North 28-14 in the Class 8A title game in 2012 and dominated Lake Zurich 30-0 to record the 7A title last season.
“You only have pressure if you’re not prepared,” Lenti said. “If you’re prepared, you’re ready. Our players have put the time in.”