ROCKFORD (WTVO/WQRF) — It was a wild race to the finish for the NIC-10 football championship last season. When it was over the Boylan Titans finished on top by one game over three other teams. So, what do the defending conference champs have coming back this season?

The Titans know that the key to contending for a conference championship is not looking too far down the road.

“We’re just kind of focused on week one and that’s the E-Rabs,”said senior running back/defensive back Rasheed Johnson. “We’ve got to work every week, and we just want to be a better team.”

“We’re not really thinking about that (a conference championship) right now,” said receiver/linebacker Ryan Starck. “We’re just trying to get better every single day and improve on the pieces that we have.”

Head coach John Cacciatore says the Titans simply need to focus on playing Boylan football. “If we can keep our standard pure from one year to the next, and then maybe those things (conference championships and playoff wins), maybe those prizes are waiting for us at the end of the year.”

The Titans return only four starters on each side of the ball, but don’t let that fool you. There’s a lot of talent here. It starts with quarterback Connor Dennis, now in his third season as the varsity starter. He led the NIC-10 in passing yardage last season. He was also the conference’s offensive MVP.

“As a senior, I think maybe the game has probably slowed down a little bit for him,” said Cacciatore. “He looks good throwing the football.”

Dennis has some excellent receivers to help him with the passing game. Philip Dixon and Santana English should be big playmakers, but as Cacciatore says, a quarterback’s best friend is a good run game. The Titans should have that with the one-two punch of senior running backs Donavan Hanserd and Rasheed Johnson. Johnson’s a burner. This past spring in track, he finished fifth in the state in the 100-meter dash in Class 2A.

So what’s Johnson’s focus going into his senior season?

“Just being a better leader. Bringing our players up. You know, not just saying it’s all about me, but as a team working hard every week.”

“It’s fun to have pieces like Rasheed because he’s such a gentleman and a scholar,” said Cacciatore. “We like to see him on offense and defense. He fills multiple positions on both sides of the ball.”

As usual the Titans have some physical linemen. Abe Alvarado is back after being named first team all-conference last year at nose guard. Senior Nico Contreras will play center and defensive line. Hunter Hatfield is expected to make big improvement at tackle, and then there’s big junior Barron Sholl. He’s already getting interest from Division One colleges.

“Everyone’s going to mark him as one of the best players you’re going to want to know where he is,” said Cacciatore. “If he’s on our offensive side you’re going to want to put your best defensive player over there.”

The Titans will also put a strong linebacking unit on the field that will consist of Ryan Starck, Donavan Hanserd, and Austin Alonso.

Starck is impressed with Alonzo. “Austin Alonso specifically is just a great tackler. He’s a great player. He sniffs out the ball very well.”

Sniffing out the ball in the defensive secondary will be Johnson, Sonny Jass, Philip Dixon, and Santana English. English was first-team all-conference last year.