ROCKFORD — John Rossato has everyone back from his 21-5 team that won the NIC-10 title.

The sophomore NIC-10 title.

But now Jefferson’s sophomore coach moves up to varsity after Todd Brannan moved to Belvidere North, trying to replace three all-conference players from a team that set a school record with 26 victories.

“A lot of times people think if you win the sophomore title that will translate into victories at the varsity level,” Rossato said. “It’s unknown where that is going to translate to. But to replace MyQuion Garrett, Quillin Dixon and Terry Ford, that’s a tall task to replace.

“Those guys last year, any of three or four guys could put up 20 points on a night. This year’s group is more balanced. They tend to move the ball and find good shots, open shots. We talk every day in practice about not taking a shot just because you’re open, about getting the very best look we can get. We also need some guys to crash the boards and get some easy points that way.”

Jefferson has some talent, especially young talent, but their top eight players average only 6 feet, with none taller than 6-3 and the only returning starter at 5-8 in George Williams. Nothing will likely come easy for the J-Hawks this year.

“We are going to need to value the ball each possession and defend on each possession,” Rossato said. “There are going to be times with such young players that we make mistakes, but the more we limit our mistakes the better we will be.”

Matt Trowbridge: 815-987-1383; mtrowbridge@rrstar.com; @matttrowbridge

J-Hawks at a glance

Coach: John Rossato (1st year)

Last season: 26-7 (13-3)

Predicted finish: 8th

Returning starters: George Williams (5-8 Jr. G)

Other key players: Latrell Graham (6-1 Soph. G), Qua Robinson (5-10 Jr. G), Demarian Jordan (6-3 Sr. F), De’Ario Newble (5-8 Jr. G), Mike Bankole (6-2 Jr. F), Lajuan Morris (6-3 Jr. F), Antonio Henigan (6-0 Sr. G).

Strengths: Team chemistry/toughness, speed, balance.

Weaknesses: Lack of size and experience.

Outlook: After winning a school-record 26 games and a share of only its second conference title in history, the J-Hawks start over with a new coach and an almost all-new team. However, Jefferson was also a NIC-10 best 24-5 (15-1) on the sophomore level last year. “We have to mature quickly,” said coach John Rossato, last year’s sophomore coach. “With most of the talk about last year’s team and what we have lost, these guys are eager to make their own mark.”