There is a new conference and a new coach this season at St. Francis, which welcomes former Marist assistant Mike Fitzgerald as Greg Purnell's successor.
Fitzgerald pledges to bring more offensive balance to the traditionally ground game-geared Spartans. Seniors Clint Bobowski and Nick Dama are competing at the quarterback spot, with an experienced receiving corps of Matt Hanson, Mike Shaw, Jack Ahern and Nate Zito ready to do their part.
"I think we've got a really deep group of receivers, a lot of skill at that position, and again, that fits well with what we want to do," Fitzgerald said. "We want to spread the field out and we want to be multiple."
St. Francis, however, has no intention of abandoning its rushing attack, especially with versatile senior Steven Fassnacht available as a featured back. Fassnacht has a tough act to follow with Nevada recruit James Butler having graduated.
An offensive line anchored by returning center Cole Cunningham and guards John Vargyas and Michael Riley will block for Fassnacht.
Defensively, end Quinn Calcagno has been "very athletic, very disruptive all summer" while linebacker Zito, safeties Shaw and Ahern and nose tackle Thomas Brundage are among the other potential defensive difference-makers.
The Spartans will play several guys on both sides of the ball as they acclimate to Year 1 in the Chicago Catholic League.
"We're trying to limit the offensive line going both ways, the O-line, D-line, we're trying to limit as much as possible, but the skill guys ... I feel really good with our depth where we can play those guys both ways, and if they need a blow, their backups are coming along and there's a lot of competition," Fitzgerald said.
Coach: Mike Fitzgerald (first season)
2013 record: 5-5 overall, 3-4 Suburban Christian Conference blue. Lost, 47-28, to Glenbard South in first round of Class 5A playoffs.
Fast fact: Recent Northern Illinois football product Matt Battaglia, who was at Marist when Fitzgerald was an assistant coach there, is part of Fitzgerald's new coaching staff as St. Francis' offensive line coach.
Special teams spotlight: Fitzgerald gave a nuanced take in describing his philosophy on taking fourth-down gambles versus punting it away.
"I think a lot of it's a feel thing, if you've got the momentum or you're trying to get the momentum, but you've also got to play the field possession game," Fitzgerald said. "It's definitely a major factor in football games so I think you've got to mix and match the times to be aggressive and the times to just turn the field with the kick."
Bottom line: Expect some early-season growing pains as St. Francis adjusts to its new schemes, but a relatively favorable early schedule should allow the Spartans to find their sea legs in time for the meat of the season. Playing several key guys both ways is a potential concern.
Memory banked: "Last year, first game [at home], we got to play on the new field, and that was really cool. Playing on such a bad field before and then coming out here on the new turf with a bunch of fans was great." – Steven Fassnacht, senior running back/defensive back
Aug. 29 vs. Menomonie, Wis. (at Madison Middleton) 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 5 vs. Plainfield South 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 12 vs. Marmion 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 19 vs. Brother Rice 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Hales Franciscan 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 3 at St. Laurence 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10 vs. Montini 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 at De La Salle 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 at Fenwick (at Concordia U.) TBD
Marquee matchup: vs. Marmion, Sept. 12. Despite switching conferences, there is some continuity in the Spartans' schedule, including maintaining a heated rivalry with fellow SCC transplant Marmion. Both teams will be making their Chicago Catholic League debuts, with the Spartans hoping to cash in on the second of three straight early-season home games.
Aug. 30 Riverside-Brookfield W, 35-9
Sept. 6 Plainfield South W, 43-20
Sept. 13 Chicago Christian W, 49-0
Sept. 20 Montini L, 30-7
Sept. 27 Aurora Christian L, 24-14
Oct. 4 Marian Central L, 34-28
Oct. 11 Marmion L, 26-20
Oct. 18 Guerin W, 56-7
Oct. 25 St. Edward W, 50-8
Nov. 2 Glenbard South L, 47-28