Super 25 football countdown: No 25 NazarethNazareth's Rudy Romagnano (31) runs the ball during the first half of their Class 6A IHSA Quarterfinal Football Playoff Game against Prairie Ridge in Crystal Lake Saturday afternoon. November 12, 2011. Prairie Ridge won the game 35-7. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 31, 2012 11:48AM
Tim Racki and Rudy Romagnano remember the tough times.
For Racki, it came when he arrived at Nazareth as head coach for the 2005 season with a resume that included four Class 4A state titles at now-closed Driscoll.
“People were still talking [how] it was athletic suicide to get into this [East Suburban Catholic] Conference,” Racki said.
Then, the Roadrunners were coming off back-to-back 1-8 years. They won six games in Racki’s first two years, stretching their string of losing seasons to five. Things started to click in 2007, when Nazareth reached the 5A quarterfinals and finished 8-4.
After another playoff appearance in 2008, the Roadrunners slipped back under .500 for two more years. Then came 2011 and the biggest season in program history: marquee wins over Joliet Catholic and Marist, an ESCC title and a run to the Class 6A quarterfinals that ended with a loss to eventual champ Prairie Ridge.
Romagnano was a big part of the Roadrunners’ early-season success, but he missed most of the second half with a broken fibula. “It just sucked last year, getting hurt,” Romagnano said. “I’m ready to play this year.”
And with a deep and talented group of skill players returning, the Roadrunners – No. 25 in the Sun-Times’ preseason Super 25 – are determined to show they’re capable of remaining among the state’s elite programs.
“Everybody is hungry to get past the quarters,” Racki said. “The expectations have been raised, as they should be.”
The Roadrunners will build around four returning senior starters on offense: wide receiver Zack Manuel (6-foot-2, 195 pounds), running backs Josh Moore (5-10, 180) and Romagnano (5-10, 190) and H-back Aneas White (5-11, 200).
“They can both not only stretch the field vertically, but east and west on the perimeters as well,” Racki said of Moore and Romagnano.
And, the coach added, White “was really the main cog in our running game [in 2011]. We were able to run a wing-T with that offensive line.”
Another impact player looks to be 6-4, 200-pound junior quarterback Jake Bartels. “He can see the field and he can also run,” Racki said.
“I think we’ll have a great passing game this year, too,” Romagnano said.
That will depend on how quickly some younger and less experienced linemen get up to speed.
On the defensive side, the leaders look to be White, who will split time at linebacker and safety, and four more seniors: linebackers Dan DeSimone (5-10, 190) and Tommy Gray (5-11, 215) and ends Tyler VanDahm (6-4, 245) and Pat Vitek (6-3, 210).
What it all adds up to remains to be seen. But after last season, the Roadrunners are definitely on opponents’ radar.
“Each team is a different animal,” Racki said. “[But] this year’s seniors were a big part of last year’s success.