Super 25 football countdown: No 11 St RitaSt. Rita's Guerby Ministre runs the ball against Providence Catholic during their football game Friday, September 23, 2011.| Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 14, 2012 3:27PM
With a big, experienced offensive line and two veteran running backs, it doesn’t take a psychic to figure out St. Rita’s game plan this fall.
“With our offensive line, we have the size and speed,” said 6-foot-2, 260-pound senior Kevin Pergande. “I think we’re right where we want to be. Not to be cocky, [but] we’re ready to run the ball.”
Besides Pergande, the Mustangs – No. 11 in the Sun-Times’ preseason Super 25 – return starters Alex Zaleski (6-3, 275), Eric Ponio (6-1, 250), Troy Johnson (6-1, 250) and Jake Spallina (6-1, 245). Johnson moved from defense to offense when Spallina got hurt in Week 1 last season and may go back across the line. Junior Matt Byrne (6-3, 275) is another lineman to watch.
“Any time you can have any experience on the line, it’s good,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “Those five guys up front are the ones who set the tone for everything.”
Last year, that line paved the way for a 10-3 record and a Class 7A semifinal berth for the Mustangs, who have made 12 straight IHSA postseason appearances and have won 10 or more games each of the last six years.
The big guys will be opening holes for seniors Tim Lombard (893 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Guerby Ministre (378 yards, 2 TDs). “They’re running strong,” Pergande said. “They’re both looking good.”
Last year’s quarterback, Scott Thomas, has graduated, setting up a competition this season between seniors John Kelley (6-1, 175) and Tom McCormick (6-1, 205), who could also wind up playing elsewhere.
There were heavier graduation losses on the defensive side, where the Mustangs will build around senior returners Jack Sears (6-1, 205) and Chuck Haas (5-7, 220). Sears had 43 tackles, two sacks and an interception at outside linebacker, while Haas contributed 32 tackles and 1.5 sacks on the line.
“He’s a great athlete,” Kuska said of Sears,
“We have a lot of new faces,” Pergande said. “I think it’s going to be on the offense [early]. The defense is younger.”
The Mustangs also have a pair of capable kickers, who return after splitting the duties last year. John Kelly was 24-for-24 on PATs and 4-of-7 on field goals, while Nick Goldsmith converted all six extra points he tried and averaged 39.8 yards in limited action as a punter.
What it all adds up to is another year of great expectations for a program that has consistently been one of the best on the South Side and in the state.
“We expect to compete for a conference championship and a state championship,” Kuska said. “We’ve come up one game short [of reaching the state final] the last two years. They have a taste for that and they want to go farther.”