I know what you're thinking: How soon can I see this kid play?
Well, here's the Dons' 2013 schedule, straight from the desk of Coach Mike Hennessey (with last year's records in parentheses):
Aug. 30 Prairie Ridge (3-6)
Sept. 7 @ Bartlett (7-4)
Sept. 13 @ Normal Community (6-4)
Sept. 20 Marian Catholic (1-8)
Sept. 27 @ St. Viator (5-5)
Oct. 5 @ Nazareth (5-4)
Oct. 11 Marist (8-2)
Oct. 18 @ Joliet Catholic (8-5)
Oct. 25 Carmel (3-6)
Prairie Ridge boasts the heavily-recruited offensive guard Shane Evans and I'm sure they'll show up in Niles with a vastly improved squad from last year. But can Coach Chris Schremp rebuild his team around an interior lineman? It's ironic: PR was Class 6A state champs as recently as 2011. Was this game scheduled when the Wolves were riding high and ND was looking to break .500? I'll say the Dons take this one at home.
(Opening day could be difficult, though; there are so many good games to watch that night.)
But Week Two, at Bartlett at 6:00 pm, could be the ticket. (Especially since the following week is in Normal, about three hours from my house, and Week Four is against Marian Catholic, a team that struggled last year.)
In 2012, the Dons were 7-5 with big wins over St. Viator, 49-20, and Joliet Catholic, 42-33, before getting eliminated in the third round of the playoffs by Lake Forest, 31-19. Bartlett, in comparison, was 7-4 last year but with only one victory over a team with a winning record, Leyden (7-4), 14-0, in the second round of the postseason. But the Hawks, whose coach I hear is a real meany (seriously, his name is Tom Meaney), have a running back of their own, James Butler, who has interest from four Big Ten schools and USC (ever heard of 'em?).
(By the way, I'm assuming this isn't the same James Butler who plays for St. Francis. Did somebody transfer on me during the off-season?)
Anyway, this contest could be a heck of a match-up and a good early test for James and the Dons.
Weeks Five and Six find Notre Dame on the road against St. Viator and Nazareth before returning home to face Marist. (Watch out for the Roadrunners this year; they'll be led by seniors Jake Bartels at quarterback and Will Colmery at defensive end, and rising junior Jack Shutack at offensive tackle.)
But the Marist game on October 11 could be a barn-burner. Notre Dame will be looking to avenge last year's 21-14 loss in Mount Greenwood. Can the Dons stop Notre Dame-bound tight end Nic Weishar and junior wide receiver Flynn Nagel? Do the Red Hawks have anyone who can throw to them? And can Marist contain Chris James? This could be a great game!
Then, as if that weren't enough, Notre Dame has to finish the regular season against Joliet Catholic and Carmel (my prediction for Most Improved Team for 2013). The Hilltoppers have another first-rate wide receiver in Jordan Jones as well as Zach Rezin at middle linebacker and junior DeAndre Ford at offensive tackle.
(Give me a minute to catch my breath!)
There; that's better. So the Dons, I figure, could finish the season anywhere from 1-8 to 8-1. But if Chris James is as good as they say, and Notre Dame gets a few breaks here and there, don't be too surprised if their record looks a lot more like the latter.
Either way, it should be an awesome year!