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Matt Page, of Brother Rice, drops back to pass against Marist at Brother Rice, Friday, August 31st, 2012 in Chicago IL. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Matt Page had a few opportunities to play last season when he was Brother Rice's backup quarterback to then-senior Pat Parrilli.
That helped him get used to the speed of varsity football, especially in the rugged Catholic League Blue. But it didn't really prepare him for what new coach Brian Badke had in store this fall.
Badke has transformed the Crusaders from a run-first team with two backs who combined for 2,788 yards and 39 touchdowns (Martez and Andrew Walker) to a pass-happy club.
Parrilli was 43-of-95 for 511 yards and no touchdowns in 2001; through just three games this season, Page is 66-of-126 for 854 yards and 11 scores. The senior will try to add to those numbers Friday when the Crusaders (2-1) travel to St. Rita (2-1) to open league play in the first MeTV/Sun-Times Catholic League Blue Game of the Week. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Changing offensive strategies hasn't been as tough as one might expect. "The coaches have done a good job explaining everything," Page said.
And there's the reality that this is a passer's dream offense. "You pick up on things better when you're having fun," said Page, who's been a quarterback since his grammar school days at St. Linus in Oak Lawn.
Badke considers the Crusaders a work in progress, but he likes what he's seen so far.
"Overall, the kids are playing pretty well," Badke said. "Obviously we still have to work with our new system. We're still learning. They're working hard. We're trying to get better every day."
Page fits well into Badke's system, both because of his size (6-4, 220 pounds) and athletic ability and also because of his brain.
"He still has a long way to go to where we want him to be," Badke said. "He has progressively gotten better. It helps that he has a 33 ACT [score]. He has good football sense as well.
"He's jelling really well with the receiver corps. The bottom line is we've got to protect him."
Page feels more comfortable with each passing game. "We put in a couple new things every week," he said.
The Crusaders opened with an impressive 48-14 win over Shepard (which won its next two games), fell 49-35 to Marist and survived a tough road test by beating Bishop McNamara 30-25 last week. Page hopes those challenges will help the Crusaders as they navigate their way through the Catholic Blue.
"Ideally, we'd like to be 3-0," he said. "I definitely think playing the tough teams early on helps."