Bryce Sutherland, of De La Salle, takes a pass in for the touchdown against St. Laurence at St. Laurence, Friday, October 4th, 2013, in Chicago. | Gary Middendorf/For Sun-Times Media
A football team relying on a dozen or so juniors in its starting lineup generally is in for some growing pains.
That’s likely not going to be the case at De La Salle.
“I’m not worried about our youth,” Meteors coach Mike Boehm said. “These juniors are talented. They’re competitors.”
They’re also winners, having claimed the Catholic League White championship as freshmen and sophomores.
With the Catholic League forced to realign divisions after adding teams, the Meteors find themselves in the Green Division, along with Fenwick, Marmion, Wheaton St. Francis and Montini.
Yes, the same Montini which, after winning four straight Class 5A state championships, settled for a runner-up finish in 2013.
De La Salle has three straight road games before its home opener in Week 4 against Montini. The following week, the Meteors travel to Gately Stadium to take on Mount Carmel in a Catholic League crossover.
If the Meteors can survive that 1-2 punch both mentally and physically, they should be primed for the stretch run.
“We’ve never played Montini,” Boehm said. “It’s going to a challenge for sure to play Montini and Mount Carmel back to back.”
De La Salle boasts a trio of playmakers at skill positions.
Tom Duddleston returns at quarterback after passing for 647 yards and seven touchdowns in just five games last season. He’ll have a pair of excellent targets at receiver in seniors Bryce Sutherland and Drew Chavarria. Sutherland earned SouthotownStar All-Area honors in 2013, registering 66 catches for 934 yards and eight TDs. Chavarria is being recruited by Ivy League teams.
Juniors Donald Gardner and Ronald Seals will provide additional firepower at receiver.
“Duddleston is a throwback player,” said Boehm, a 1992 De La Salle grad. “He’s a leader and everything you want in a player. He’ll help carry the equipment.”
Seniors Aaron Rodriguez and Eddie Gallardo will anchor an offensive line that will include three juniors.
“If I have a concern, it’s the offensive line,” Boehm said. “We graduated two really good kids, and we’re expecting three juniors to step up. But we’re going to spread it out and try some different things. I believe we can do some good things.”
There is less concern on defense, where the Meteors will have a ton of speed on the edges. Junior Amir Watts, a 6-3, 270-pound end, is in line for a breakout season, according to Boehm.
“He’s the best lineman I’ve been around in a long time,” Boehm said. “He’s unbelievable.”
Another lineman, senior Layel Martin, can wreak havoc against the run and pass.
Junior Pat Qualls and Walter McBride will key a secondary that will, at times, include Sutherland, Chavarria, Gardner and Seals. The kicking game will be a strength behind the leg of David Dominguez.
“We’re going to be quick on the defensive side,” said Boehm, whose Meteors finished 6-6 in 2013. “I think we can be a good team. I think we can definitely be competitive in our conference. I’m excited.”