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Catawba Notebook: Noel a hit for Catawba

By Bret Strelow
bstrelow@salisburypost.com
The Catawba notebook …
Teammates use the nickname “Little Bob Sanders” to identify Catawba senior Chris Noel.
Noel bears some resemblance to the Indianapolis Colts’ standout, and both players are hard-hitting safeties.
Noel, now a starter in Catawba’s secondary, continues to contribute on special teams. He made a lasting impression two years ago by leveling Carson-Newman kickoff returner Barry Wakefield during the Indians’ 24-22 home win.
“I think it’s probably been my hardest hit since I’ve been here,” Noel said. “That was my best first moment here because it was a year I played nothing but special teams.
“After the game I actually had a guy tell me he had watched Catawba football for 43 years and that’s the hardest hit he’d ever seen.”
More memorable moments have followed.
Noel has started the last two games at strong safety for Catawba, which will open its SAC schedule at Mars Hill on Saturday.
Noel made a devastating hit against St. Augustine’s, forced a fumble against Elizabeth City State and came off the corner on a punt rush that led to a safety against Livingstone.
“We feel like wherever we put Chris he’s going to be productive and be aggressive and be a hitter,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said.
Noel made two starts at cornerback last season before suffering a broken arm in the regular-season finale against Lenoir-Rhyne. He missed postseason games against Albany State and Valdosta State.
Noel didn’t travel to Valdosta, Ga., and he struggled to keep his emotions in check as he listened to a radio broadcast of the Indians’ loss.
“Sitting out the playoffs, I think that hurt more than the injury,” Noel said. “I wanted to be out there so bad.”
Catawba senior Jasmon Carpenter is one of the starting cornerbacks this season, and promising freshman Bryant Vennable has stepped into the other spot.
Noel has moved to a position he played as a senior at High Point Andrews High School.
“I think that was one of the best moves for me in high school because it taught me how to tackle,” Noel said. “When you’re at safety, you either have to hit or get run over. You can’t come half-stepping.”
Noel entered this year with a reduced role on special teams, and that didn’t sit well.
He went to assistant head coach John Fitz, the special teams coordinator, and asked for added responsibilities.
“One of the things said around here is they want people who want to be on special teams, and I actually want to,” Noel said. “I take pride in being on special teams because I think special teams can change the game. There are three phases to the game, and it definitely can win or lose the game.”
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STRONG SIGNALS: Junior quarterback Howard Williamson, who rested an injured shoulder in Catawba’s win against Livingstone, is expected to start against Mars Hill.
The Indians are coming off a bye week, and Williamson was able to make some deep throws during Monday’s practice.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope he doesn’t have any setbacks this week,” Hester said.
Patrick Dennis, a sophomore, started against Livingstone and tied a school record with five touchdown passes.
“Patrick will continue to get reps in practice, but that’s nothing that’s been new,” Hester said. “Patrick has got some good confidence going.
“Our team has confidence and our coaching staff has confidence in what he can do, but Howard is our starter. He will start, but we’ve got a lot of confidence if we need to go to Patrick.”
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FACILITY FACELIFT: Catawba fell 25-7 two years ago in its most recent trip to Mars Hill.
A renovation process at Meares Stadium began last April. The facility now has synthetic turf instead of natural grass, new visitor seating, an upgraded home grandstand and a new pressbox.
“They put the visitor’s side back on the stadium,” Hester said, “and I think our fans will enjoy that again.”
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MOVING ON UP: Despite not playing over the weekend, Catawba has moved into the AFCA poll. The Indians are ranked 23rd, the same spot they occupy in the d2football.com poll.

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