Catawba football: Offensive preview
By Mike London
Catawba coach Chip Hester has spent the summer reminding people the Indians planned to be pretty good on offense even before former North Carolina quarterback Cam Sexton came on board.
While the buzz surrounding Sexton, who directed UNC to season-saving wins last season, is loud and understandable, offenses still start with offensive lines.
Catawba is experienced and talented in the trenches and in strong position to improve on last season’s 6-4 record. The O-line returns intact as a unit for the third straight year.
Left tackle Terence Crosby is expected to repeat the All-America accolades he earned in 2008.
Right tackle Hunter Carnes, who will start for the fourth year, is All-SAC material and maybe more.
Right guard Kevin “Hammer” Hamaker is another dependable four-year starter, while center Zane Gibson and Kemp McSween will become three-year starters when Catawba opens Saturday afternoon against St. Augustine’s at Raleigh’s Broughton High School.
“I’d always heard Catawba offensive linemen are good, and they are,” Sexton said. “Sure, there’s a little bit of a size difference in these guys and some of the guys at Carolina, but their mentality is that same get-after-it mentality I’m used to seeing from an offensive line. They make me feel safe.”
Catawba’s O-line has proven durable as well as efficient, but there’s also depth on hand with Daylon McAlexander, Decarius Kanyinda, Roy Carter, Marquell Reddick and freshmen Ethan Winn and Nick Bodenheimer.
The offensive line won’t have Jamelle Cuthbertson, one of the SAC’s best running backs, to block for this season.
Senior Antonio Hall (4.3 yards per carry, five TDs) has paid dues in supporting roles and gets a chance to be the feature back this time.
“I watched the things Jamelle did, and his advice to me was just to go out and play my game,” said Hall, who rushed for 75 yards in the finale against Lenoir-Rhyne. “Running behind an O-line with five returning starters and three seniors, I’m excited.”
Talented Western Carolina transfers Josh Wright and Levon Curtis also figure prominently in Catawba’s plans.
Hard-luck Bobby Morrison, a Shrine Bowler out of West Iredell with star potential, remains on the shelf with injuries. He’s suffered a broken foot and torn an ACL since coming to Salisbury.
Adawi Revels, who started four games last season, is expected to be the fullback, with freshman Aaron Rainey and veteran E.J. Branch, who has played on both sides of the ball, competing for time.
None of the returning receivers put up huge numbers, but there are a lot of veterans who have shown they can make plays and keep drives alive.
“I’ve been impressed with how the receivers run their routes and pay attention to all the little details,” Sexton said.
Brandon Bunn (24 catches, six TDs), Eric Morman (17 catches) and Travis Landrum (72-yard TD catch against Newberry) lead the group.
Brian Terwilliger brings a lot of speed. Jamey Small (East Rowan) is a reliable veteran. Ronnie Williams is a sharp-looking freshman. Gerron Bryant, who has made remarkable catches in the past, isn’t on the preseason depth chart but will be a factor if he’s available.
Grayson Downs (three TD catches) returns at tight end. Holt Rains provides depth.
Sexton should add considerably to the offense with his mobility, leadership and big-game experience.
“Cam’s brought a lot of excitement to the program, there’s no doubt about that,” Hester said. “He’s come in, worked hard, fit in well and become a part of what we’re trying to do.”
Sexton enjoyed 200-yard passing efforts against Miami, Notre Dame and Boston College last fall and threw for more than 2,000 yards in his career as a Tar Heel. It’s not hard to figure out he’s a potentially dominant player at the Division II level.
Patrick Dennis and Daniel Griffith (North Rowan) also return, and Hester is confident the Indians, with their powerful O-line, could win with either at the controls.
As a part-time starter, Dennis was the No. 5 passer in the SAC in 2008 and tossed 13 TDs. Griffith made one start.
Lining up behind Dennis and Griffith to compete for the quarterback job after Sexton’s single season in Salisbury is a large group of young signal-callers that includes Brett Mooring, a big Shrine Bowler.
Thomas Trexler returns to handle placekicking duties with freshman Logan Hulsander pushing him. Colby McCanna emerged from camp as the starting punter.
The shifty Curtis is a likely kickoff returner, with Terwilliger and Landrum also candidates. Curtis and Bunn will return punts. Long snappers include Phillip Russ, D.J. Davis and Carson grad Dustin Craft.
Catawba has enjoyed 14 straight winning seasons, the last seven under Hester’s direction. It will be extremely disappointing if that streak isn’t extended. It’s more likely this will be one of those special seasons in which the Indians make a regional impact.
Maybe even a national impact. That’s the goal.
“We have talent, but building a team is still a day-to-day process and you have to do the work,” Hester said. “It’s not the team with the best players that wins; it’s the best team that wins ballgames.”
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