Plenty of talented running backs have roamed the hallowed halls of Saint Ignatius and the green turf of Byers Field. Having a strong running game has always been a crucial component of a Wildcats offense.
Looking towards the 2020 season, the Wildcats look blessed with talent and depth at the running back position.
And what's more, the group of four veteran backs are tightknit, all humble with two goals: 1. A state championship, and 2. Rush for as many yards as possible.
Here's a look at running backs for the season.
No spotlight hogs
The four veteran members of the Wildcats' backfield – Mike Simcak, Anthony Santagata, Marty Lenehan, and Ryan Waldron – share a common characteristic. Selflessness.
They don't care who carries the ball. They just want to help the offense out by gaining as many yards as possible.
"The work ethic in our position group is unmatched," says Simcak. "All of us are willing to put ourselves on the line to get a yard or two. We're not looking for the spotlight, we're looking to ground and pound."
Team chemistry is a defining attribute of the "Mack Pack." The running backs hang out together on and off the field, and you can immediately sense that camraderie when you approach them in practice.
The coaching staff is unsure of how carries will be distributed, so it's a huge plus that the running backs work well together.
"They all get along. There's no magical formula," says Running Backs Coach Jim Cahill '89. "They worked out together this summer, socially distanced, to get ready for the season. There's only one ball, but they'll pull for each other."
In the 2019 season opener against Loyola Academy, senior Mike Simcak looked outstanding.
The 5'9, 185-pound back gritted out 39 yards and a touchdown on the ground against a tough Ramblers squad, eating clock and yards. But then the talented runner fell with an injury.
As quickly as it began, a promising junior campaign was snuffed out.
But that didn't stop Simcak. An irrepressible young man, Simcak worked doggedly to return to 100%. Over the summer, he did just that. The one-year anniversary of the injury came and went earlier this week with Simcak feeling great.
"We have some experience with Mike Simcak. Mike has come back from a knee injury that would possibly sideline some people through half of this season," Cahill says. "He's worked incredibly hard to get back. He has shown a really good burst and incredible quickness. I think he's quicker now than he was at this time last year. His leadership with the younger guys is invaluable."
Simcak is indeed a leader on this team. Always rallying the troops, Simcak could turn into the leader of the Mack Pack on the stats sheet.
But you won't see him clamoring selfishly for the ball.
"It's a special group. You can utilize any of us on the field at any time," Simcak says. "All of us can pass block, run, catch. We can do anything you want us to do."
Last season, Anthony Santagata enjoyed a cup of coffee on the varsity squad. This year he wants more.
Santagata toted the rock six times last year, gaining eight yards for the Wildcats. The 5'7, 155-pounder is not the biggest back, but he possesses an enviable trait – speed.
The senior may be the fastest back in the Saint Ignatius backfield at the moment. The Wildcats could use the shifty runner to pick up yards in bunches with his vision.
"He had a couple of carries last year, a cup of coffee if you will. He worked hard during the offseason," Cahill says. "He's a change of pace back. He might be the fastest back we have right now. He's working hard."
The talented junior
One of the most intriguing players on the roster is Ryan Waldron.
The 5'10, 188-pound back showcased incredible skills as a freshman and sophomore, but suffered a significant injury last season.
Waldron may be a late bloomer this season as he works his way back into form. But once he gets there, Waldron could be an elite back.
Ryan Waldron had a devastating injury last year and has yet to show us what he can do, but when he's been able to practice, he has shown the burst of speed that he had as a freshman and early on last year," Cahill explains.
Waldron will be a player to watch as the year evolves.
When Waldron went down last year, in stepped Marty Lenehan.
Surprising many, Lenehan showcased impressive speed and agility, cutting through defenses and helping the JV Cats roll to an 8-1 season.
At 5'9, 180 pounds, Lenehan possesses the frame necessary to absorb blows dealt by bigger defenders. He also has the shiftiness and athleticism to avoid contact and pick up yards.
Most of all, Lenehan will get you an extra yard when you need it.
"Marty Lenehan is everyone's darkhorse. He's the guy moving the pile," Cahill says. "When you need 5 yards, he'll get 6. He was a pleasant surprise last year with the JV team. He just lacks experience on the varsity level."
Another darkhorse to watch out for is Max Palinski. He will likely star on JV this season, but he may make a varsity appearance if he keeps up his excellent start.
Backfield by committee
With a talented group of four running backs, what will the philosophy in deploying them to the field?
To start, at least, Cahill plans to employ a backfield by committee approach. Time is on the coaching staff's side, since all teams get into the playoffs.
"The philosophy is that, with our truncated practice schedule, early on it's going to be a backfield by committee," Cahill says. "I'm not going to any guy getting a certain number of carries. It's a rhythm thing. If someone is doing what we need them to do, I'm not necessarily going to remove them just to get a fresh body in there."
Cahill and the coaching staff will use the regular season as a proving ground to see what back(s) rise to the occasion.
Splitting carries amongst four backs will not be an easy challenge, but it will be a necessary one.
"It's up to me to understand where their limits are and when they need to come out. But with four guys, it's going to be tough," Cahill says. "The great part of this is that everyone makes the playoffs. We want to win and we're going to put our best effort out there, but we're going to put the best backs out there to do that."
The good thing? All four know the position well.
With the run schemes the Wildcats run, all four have a good grasp of the concepts and the vision necessary to find the holes in the defense and exploit them.
"They all bring something different to the position," Cahill says. "They have different styles of running, but they're all very good with our zone concepts. There are subtle things they do that make them dangerous."
As for the four backs, they're not here for the glory. They just want to gain yards and win games.
"We want a state championship. Individually, all of us want us to put up as many yards as we can," Simcak says. "Feed the Mack Pack."