Preseason No. 7: Mount Carmel

Last season: 11-3 overall, 4-1 Catholic League Blue, lost in the Class 8A state championship to Maine South, ranked No. 7 in the final ESPNChicago.com 2010 poll

Season ahead: With Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti having more than 300 wins and nine state titles to his name, it takes a lot to satisfy him.

Through nearly two weeks of practice, his team hasn’t accomplished that.

“Very so-so,” Lenti said. “I’m not happy with the consistency. Last year, I felt we were a little ahead of where we are right now. I don’t know why. If I knew that, I’d be at the Horseshoe Casino. I don’t know if the kids are waiting around for someone to take the lead. We’ll have a couple of good practices and then a so-so practice.”

The Caravan have some holes to fill from last year’s team, especially with quarterback Chris Sujka and running back Michael Banks graduating, but they have talent back and enough skilled newcomers to believe they’re capable of making another run at a state title.

Star power: Senior defensive tackle Vontrell Williams is one of the state’s most coveted defensive prospects. He’s narrowed his options to Illinois, Indiana and Kansas. He had 15 tackles for a loss last season.

Breakout performer: Running back Brandon Greer, who is committed to Central Michigan, will get the bulk of the carries this season and has the speed to be a game-changer. He’ll also start at defensive back. “He gives you a nice complete package,” Lenti said. “He can catch the ball. He can run the ball. He can make you miss. He can run by you.”

Defensive difference-maker: While all the defensive attention goes to Vontrell Williams, Lenti actually calls linebacker Derrick Bryant his best defensive player. “He’s got a nose for the ball,” Lenti said. “He’s a little undersized. He can really play and run well. If he was six-feet tall, he’d be able to go to a lot of places.”

Newcomer to watch: Mount Carmel hands over its option offense to first-year starting quarterback Don Butkus, whose great uncle is legendary football player Dick Butkus. As Mount Carmel has done in the past, Lenti expects Butkus to be a two-year starter for the Caravan. “We’ve always had a junior step in and be a two-starter for us,” Lenti said. “He loves to compete. He’s very smart. He’s a very cerebral young man. He gets the game.”

Schedule breakdown: There are very few cupcakes in Mount Carmel’s schedule. The Caravan open the season facing two of the Chicago Public League’s best teams in Simeon and Morgan Park. Simeon upset Mount Carmel last season. Of course, the Catholic League will be the Catholic League again. Loyola and St. Rita fall in that elite category again, and Brother Rice and Providence are expected to be much improved from last season. The Caravan do have the misfortune of having to play Loyola and St. Rita on the road.

Key game: Oct. 14 at St. Rita – St. Rita has had Mount Carmel’s number in their last three meetings. The Caravan will look to break that streak on St. Rita’s home field this season. This game will also likely help determine the Catholic League Blue champion.

What they’re saying: “We came out of nowhere last year,” Lenti said. “We were picked fourth in the conference. Chris Sujka and some other guys took that team and carried us on their backs. We haven’t seen anyone do that this year.”