As Mount Carmel prepares to play in its 17th state title game Saturday, there is one number that jumps out at you.
That means something because the numbers the program has produced since 1924 are amazing. Think about it -- 17 title games, which ties Joliet Catholic for the state record.
Mount Carmel will be going for its 12th state title and first in Class 7A when it faces Lake Zurich at 4 p.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. Only Joliet Catholic has more with 13.
How ridiculous is this considering the Caravan total started in 1980?
Bill Barz's Caravan won the first title that year and got things rolling. Since then, Frank Lenti has won 10. The program has 707 wins since it started playing football in 1924. Only East St. Louis with 894 has more. Lenti has won nearly half of those games as he is 338-60 and is the winningest prep coach in the state. Mount Carmel is 104-18 in playoff games, not counting the Prep Bowl.
How impressive is this? The Caravan were 37-55-1 in the 1970s and that is after going 9-33-1 in the first five years of that decade. In the 1980s, the Caravan was 104-21 and 122-12 in the 90s.
People will joke that if Mount Carmel wins Saturday, Lenti will need another hand for the rings. He doesn't, because he does not wear the rings. Like most guys who are successful, he doesn't have to push his state title rings in front of everyone's face. His success is not just measured on the field, but those kids who come back as men and are successful after they graduate. In Lenti's office, there are family pictures and those of his football family. Those kids are in college uniforms, not pro uniforms, and he has sent a few guys to the NFL. He has often said his job is not to get them into the NFL, but into college and the opportunity to better themselves.
The success of the football program really united the alumni at the all-male Catholic school. It has been done in the proper perspective, because if you look at the 2012 Class 8A state championship team, the top three kids in the senior class were football players. When you look at the school, why has it survived all these years? It is more than football. It is the dedication of teachers and alumni who would do anything for Mount Carmel. Like Old St. Pat's on Adams Street in the west Loop, you wonder how it survived. Yet, St. Pat's, which was a dying parish 25 or so years ago, is thriving with young and old parisheners. Mount Carmel survived the riots of thee 1960s and alumni chose to send their children there and like St. Pat's, the school draws from a lot of zip codes, including the ones that begin with a "4" from Indiana.
Mount Carmel certainly has carved a special niche and made itself a special place.