DePaul football coach John McKenna will lead the Spartans into a pivotal season-opener Thursday night in Wayne. (PHOTO: JOE CAMPOREALE/Special to The Record & Herald News)

DePaul football coach John McKenna will lead the Spartans into a pivotal opener against Paramus on Thursday night in Wayne. (PHOTO: JOE CAMPOREALE/Special to The Record & Herald News)

WAYNE — If there’s such a thing as a must-win game to start the season, DePaul’s home game against Paramus on Thursday night qualifies.

With tough games against all four Bergen County parochial powers on DePaul’s schedule again, the Spartans, ranked No. 5 in The Record preseason Top 25, cannot afford to lose to any of the public programs they’ll play. DePaul lost to Bergen Catholic, Don Bosco, Paramus Catholic and St. Joseph last season, but you could point to its 33-28 loss to Pascack Valley in its fourth game as the real reason DePaul didn’t reach the playoffs for the first time since John McKenna took over as the Spartans’ head coach before the 2005 season.

Fifteenth-ranked Pascack Valley, DePaul’s fourth opponent again this season, isn’t nearly as loaded as last season. But Paramus is improved and has brought back enough experienced varsity contributors for coach Dan Sabella and his players to expect to be competitive against a DePaul team that features four scholarship players in quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (Villanova), safety/wide receiver Kiy Hester (Rutgers), offensive tackle/defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins (Miami) and defensive end/tight end Justin Nelson (Rutgers).

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Jenkins won’t play against Paramus due to an undisclosed injury, which should make this game more challenging for DePaul. But the Spartans are well aware that with back-to-back road games against No. 1 Paramus Catholic and No. 3 Don Bosco next on the schedule, they really need to beat No. 14 Paramus.

“Paramus was a good team last year,” Nelson said. “We just have to take it one game at a time. When we play them, we’re just going to bring our ‘A’ game, just like when we played one of those big four schools last year. Just take one game at a time and we’re going to try to take down every team we see.”

After playing perhaps the toughest schedule among any team in Bergen and Passaic counties last season, DePaul’s players are prepared for the challenge that awaits them beginning Thursday night.

“It’s like a playoff game every week,” said senior offensive tackle Mike Kelly. “You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every single week. But knowing now what it’s like, we’re prepared for it. We expect every game to be a big one.”

 

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