Article Written by: Ed Leiser '04
As the football season draws to a close, it is always fun to look back on recent Mustangs’ football teams and ask “Where are they now?” We are so proud of our alumni who leave St. Rita High School and go on to pursue academic and athletic opportunities at major universities, and one class in recent memory stands out: the Class of 2012 Mustangs.
During the 2011 football season, the Mustangs featured a talented group and had very high preseason expectations. They would fulfill those lofty goals with an appearance in the Class 7A State Semi-Finals, dropping a heartbreaker at home to Wheaton Warrenville South by a 21-14 decision. The previous year, the Mustangs made a Semi-Final appearance as well, but fell one game short again of playing for a State Championship, as they were downed by Lake Zurich 21-0 in the 2010 playoffs.
This talented and hard-working group left their mark on the St. Rita football program, and many knew they were destined for great things at the collegiate level. As we reflect now in 2015, great things have happened—and are continuing to happen—to that group of young men.
Will McNamara, Pat O’Connor, Mike Zunica, Kenny Golladay, and Nick Dachota are all enjoying excellent collegiate careers thus far, while others such as Charles Elmore, Max Kurucar, and Ricky Valadez, have tasted success in college, too.
Will McNamara, out of St. Catherine Grammar School in Oak Lawn, was a three-year varsity starter at linebacker for the Mustangs, before heading to the Ivy League to play for Dartmouth College. There, McNamara was an immediate contributor, playing early on as a freshman before taking on a full-time starter position as a junior, where he was named All-Ivy League First Team. That year, McNamara tied for the conference lead with 87 tackles, finishing atop the Ivy League with 9.7 tackles per game, 25th among FCS players nationally. In 2015, McNamara was again named All-Ivy League First Team and was selected as a team captain for the Big Green, who earned a share of the Ivy League title for the first time in 19 years. In a nationally televised game against Harvard, McNamara had two interceptions and recorded a game-high 14 tackles in his teams’ biggest game of the season. To cap his stellar career, McNamara was invited to New York City as a Bushnell Cup Finalist, given to the Defensive Player of the Year in the Ivy League. Will finished as runner-up for this prestigious award, and will graduate in May, 2016 as a Government Major. He finished his career with 188 tackles, eight interceptions, and was named Ivy League Player of the Week three times.
Pat O’Connor, a defensive end from the Mt. Greenwood neighborhood, is a two-year captain for Eastern Michigan University, and though he is currently out for the 2015 season due to injury, he is and was a highly decorated player. O’Connor was named to the watch list for the 2015 Lombardi Award (given to the top lineman or linebacker in the nation) and was added to the Bronko Nagurski watch list as well. He was a First-Team Preseason All-MAC selection by Athlon Sports as well. In 2014, he led the MAC with 7.5 sacks and was fourth in the league in tackles-for-loss. He finished the year being named Team MVP at the Eastern Michigan football banquet. Big things are expected for O’Connor next season as he works back from injury, hopeful to play at a high level again soon.
Michael Zunica, a Palos Park native and son of St. Rita Athletic Director/Baseball Coach Mike Zunica, began his collegiate career in the Ivy League at Columbia University, before pursuing an opportunity to play at a “Power Five” conference school at Kansas University, where he is a fullback currently. Zunica earned All-Big-12 Honors in December, with an Honorable Mention nod as a fullback. He also earned the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll status and Athletic Director’s Honor Roll in the Spring of 2015, and twice in 2013 as well. With a year of eligibility remaining, Zunica figures to be a team leader for the Jayhawks next year, and will be joined on campus by his younger brother, Mateo, a current senior at St. Rita and future scholarship baseball player for the Jayhawks’ baseball program.
Kenny Golladay, a talented 6’4” wide receiver from Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood, is currently ranked No. 20 in the NCAA in receiving yards and receiving yards per game for the Northern Illinois Huskies. With 71 receptions for 1,122 yards and 10 touchdowns, Golladay was named one of two Team MVP’s at the Huskies’ football banquet held in December. His team will be headed to San Diego for the Poinsettia Bowl against Boise State on December 23rd. Golladay is on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, given to the nations’ top wide receiver, and was named MAC Offensive Player of the Week earlier this season. His 1,122 receiving yards are the third-highest single season total at NIU all-time, and the most since 2000. Golladay will have a fifth year of eligibility next season, as he sat out a year after transferring from North Dakota, where he caught 99 passes for 1,300 yards in two seasons. He will be among the top returning wide receivers in the NCAA next season. Fellow St. Rita Mustangs teammates at NIU include Tommy Mister, a sophomore running back, and Malik Space, a sophomore wide receiver.
Nick Dachota, a St. John Fisher graduate and Beverly resident, is an offensive lineman for Indiana State University. Dachota started at left guard in 2014, before taking on a reserve role this season. In 2014, the Sycamores offense was potent, as they led the Missouri Valley Football Conference with 269 passing yards per game, and ranked fourth in the conference with 18 first downs per game, Dachota being a key contributor to that effort. Dachota can return for his fifth year next year and will be expected to contribute in a big way, as the 6’8”, 310-pounder (listed as the second biggest player on the roster) will be looked at to fulfill a starting role. The Redshirt Junior is currently teammates with two other St. Rita graduates, senior defensive back Travis Starks and fellow offensive lineman, Matt Byrne, a sophomore.
Other members of the 2011 football team played football in college as well, including Charles Elmore (South Dakota State), Ricky Valadez (Wisconsin-Whitewater), and Max Kurucar (Penn). Elmore started every game in 2013 for the Jackrabbits at linebacker, placing fifth on the team with 67 total tackles. Valadez was a member of the Division Three National Champion Warhawks as a reserve linebacker in 2013. Kurucar was a member of the Penn football team in 2013, where he placed fifth in the Ivy League in punting with a 38.6 yards per punt average. He will be finishing up this May with graduation from the Ivy League institution.
We are so proud of the success this class has had thus far, and we can’t wait to see what their future holds as they continue to pursue opportunities at excellent universities and colleges across the country.
The Class of 2012 was one for the record books, a great group of young men indeed!