Preseason No. 12: Joliet Catholic

Last season: 10-2 overall, 5-1 East Suburban Catholic, lost in the Class 5A quarterfinals to Peoria Richwoods, ranked No. 13 in the final ESPNChicago.com 2010 poll

Season ahead: Joliet Catholic senior running back Malin Jones will only be satisfied with one outcome this season.

“I’ll be disappointed this year if we don’t win state,” Jones said.

Like the last two seasons, Joliet Catholic will be among the Class 5A favorites. Last season, the Hilltoppers were upset by Peoria Richwoods in the state quarterfinals. Two years ago, they were upset by Montini in the championship game.

Jones doesn’t plan on history repeating itself again.

“I care about conference,” Jones said. “I care about a nice record. But if we don’t win state, I won’t be a happy guy.”

Jones and Ty Issac are two of the main reasons why Joliet Catholic has a chance to win its seventh state title under coach Dan Sharp. Jones, who is headed to Northwestern, and Issac, who is highly recruited, make up arguably the state’s best backfield. And that’s despite the graduation of all-area running back Josh Ferguson.

“We’re just going to be as dangerous as last season,” Jones said. “They won’t be able to key on any of us. If you do, someone else will take it the distance.”

Star power: Ferguson, who is now at Illinois, made a run for ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year last season, and it’s expected Jones will do the same this season. He ran for 1,022 yards and 13 touchdowns last season and will likely pick up a few more carries this season. “I’ve more explosive, have more acceleration,” Jones said.

Breakout performer: Joliet Catholic graduated nearly its entire offensive line last season, but it does return starting tackle Jake Jankowski. His leadership and ability could be a key to the team’s success this season.

Defensive difference-maker: Austin Bolton returns as a starting linebacker for the Hilltoppers and should be a key contributor for the defense.

Newcomer to watch: Sophomore offensive lineman J.B. Butler has a chance to be a good one. He’ll step in this season and help out an inexperienced offensive line.

Schedule breakdown: Joliet Catholic can avenge its two losses from last season during the opening three weeks. The Hilltoppers meet Carmel in their season opener and Peoria Richwoods in Week 3. The East Suburban Catholic should be among the state’s top conferences again this season, and there won’t be any easy games. The Hilltoppers close out the regular season at Marist.

Key game: Aug. 26 vs. Carmel -- Carmel was the only regular-season opponent to defeat Joliet Catholic last year. Carmel defeated the Hilltoppers 31-28 at home. Carmel went on to an undefeated conference season, and Joliet Catholic finished one game behind. This season’s East Suburban Catholic showdown comes in the opening week. “I’m glad they’re our first game,” Jones said. “They’ve been a lot of motivation for us in the summer.”

What they’re saying: “We got to be (an) all-game team,” Jones said. “We can’t be a first-two-quarter team. We can’t be a slow-start team. We need to learn to be a four-quarter team.”