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College football: Catawba looks to regroup after 4-6 season

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
Given Catawba’s proud football tradition the dead-last-in-the SAC season that concluded methodically and painfully on Saturday would appear extremely forgettable.
But coach Chip Hester prefers that players and assistant coaches have memories like elephants. He wants them to remember what a punch in the gut 4-6 was.
“I hope our young guys use this as a point to remember, as something to feed on,” Hester said after a 16-13 home loss to Lenoir-Rhyne. “Whenever our guys feel like easing up in the weight room this offseason I want them to think back on how badly this feels right now. That should make them keep working harder than ever so they never have to feel like this again.”
When frustrated Indians look back they’ll recall a laundry list of injuries.
Marqus Davis, the team’s most dominant defensive lineman, went down with an ACL tear in September. Terrence Crosby, the best offensive lineman, hobbled down the stretch. Center Zane Gibson, always an ironman, got knocked out of action twice. Quarterback Cam Sexton never got back in action after suffering a concussion at Carson-Newman on Oct. 10.
The Indians who return will never forget the miserable weather in the 14-12 home setback against Mars Hill that was the turning point of a lost season.
They also won’t forget conditions that were beyond ridiculous at Brevard.
A 7-6 loss in a pasture of mud pushed the season over the thin line that separates disappointing from dismal.
Adverse weather and injuries partially explain how a season that began with trumpets blowing and birds singing finally trickled right down the drain, but there were also self-inflicted wounds.
While QB Patrick Dennis, receiver Brandon Bunn, defensive linemen Brandon Sutton and Melquan Fair, linebackers Cory Johnson and Lakeem Perry and DBs Jumal Rolle and Jaspen Gray put up fine numbers, the Indians had shortcomings.
They didn’t run the ball effectively, didn’t tackle crisply and couldn’t turn drives into points throughout the SAC season. Arguably this could’ve been a 7-3 team, even with all the injuries, but players and coaches will always have to remember 4-6.
Sutton’s postgame comments should be sweet music to Hester’s ears.
“This season didn’t go the way we planned and we are not gonna forget it,” he said. “For me and the returning guys, next summer starts right now. We’re going to get at it and we will stay at it.
“We learned this year you can play great defense and still lose and you can play great offense and still lose. You’ve got to have every phase of the game to win in this league. That’s what we are going to have next year. We’re not interested in making excuses. We are interested in results.”
Sutton, a junior, is always upbeat and outspoken. He’s eager to be one of the vocal generals and by-example leaders this offseason and next fall.
Like the players, Hester faces a critical off-season. Catawba’s coaches have proven in the past they can win football games with quality individuals who also are an asset in the classroom and community. This season was probably just worse-case scenario, not the beginning of a trend. No one saw 4-6 coming, not in their wildest nightmares, and the Indians could get back on track as early as 2010.
That’s Hester’s goal, anyway.
“I plan to work harder than I’ve ever worked,” he said. “We’re going to get this program back where it’s been and where it needs to be.”
Important scouting and recruiting missions will take place during the upcoming high school playoffs. Catawba coaches will employ a revised sales pitch.
In the past, they could talk up the Indians’ long string of success. Now they’ll try to sell student-athletes on the idea of helping Catawba regain its winning tradition and the swagger it lost somewhere along the way.

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