Spring Football: Catawba QBs take windy center stage
By Mike London
SALISBURY — It was a great Saturday for kite flying, but a challenging one for passers.
Wind is an even nastier enemy of quarterbacks than rain, cold and blitzing linebackers, and Catawba’s blustery Blue-White spring football game may as well have been played in Chicago.
“When we walked out there, it was like the wind kicked up to 80 miles an hour,” said Jacob Charest, the Illinois transfer who likely will be the starting quarterback in 2011.
Despite a lack of cooperation from Mother Nature, Charest made the game look like a breeze. He led the White (offense) to a 34-30 win against the Blue (defense).
The 6-foot-3 former Butler High hero displayed the arm strength that made him a Division I signee as well as surprising mobility. There’s some Brad Roach in him, and maybe even some Luke Samples, and if you’ve followed Catawba football for a while, that’s not a bad thing.
“It’s hard to be accurate with the wind gusting like that,” head coach Chip Hester said. “But Jacob threw it with some zip in tough conditions.”
Daniel Griffith, who will be a fifth-year senior this fall, set records at North Rowan with his terrific final prep season (2,810 passing yards, 24 TD passes). He appears to be Charest’s chief challenger for signal-calling duties, but he’s been running against the wind since his arrival at Catawba. He’s mostly been a backup to departed standout Patrick Dennis and owns five career TD passes.
“It has been a little frustrating,” Griffith admitted. “But I’ll be ready when I get a chance.”
Griffith made some nice throws Saturday, but it was hard to shine with a semi-hurricane howling.
“The wind was tough, blowing every which way,” he said with a grimace. “One throw felt perfect, and the ball went straight into the ground.”
Depth issues and injuries forced Catawba to stage a glorified 7-on-7 drill last spring rather than a full-fledged football game. That wasn’t the case this time, although the format was altered from what fans have witnessed in the past. Most years, Catawba veterans drafted full teams. This time it was strictly offense against defense, with serious pride on the line.
“I thought it was fast and very competitive,” said receiver Eric Morman , who has accumulated 84 catches for 988 yards and six TDs in his career. “The offense got a little bragging rights today, but we have to keep working.”
The offense, which rotated a half-dozen QBs, collected a point for each first down in addition to the traditional ways to score.
The defense accumulated points for positives such as creating turnovers (six), offensive three-and-outs (three) and forcing punts (one).
“I thought it was awesome and it had to be fun to watch,” defensive line coach Khanis Hubbard said. “Doing it this way, it was 1s (starters) competing against 1s, 2s against 2s and freshmen against freshmen. It was all right there, and it was nice and even. The final score at the end showed how even it was.”
Charest led the White team on a methodical opening drive that featured short passes and scrambles. He capped the march with a scoring pass to Mario Washington.
“It was nice to be back on the field in a game-type situation and to have success,” said Charest, who redshirted in 2008 at Illinois and threw TD passes against Northwestern and Minnesota in 2009.
Former Salisbury kicker Frankie Cardelle, a transfer from North Carolina Central, boomed a 48-yard field goal for a 19-6 White lead. Later, Payton McCollum reeled in a TD pass for a 29-17 cushion.
Bobby Morrison, a Shrine Bowler recruited out of West Iredell several years ago, has been plagued by injuries at Catawba. He’s healthy now and sparked the ground game.
“My knee’s fine and my ankle’s fine,” Morrison reported cheerfully. “I’m back.”
Nate Charest, Jacob’s younger brother, provided the catch of the day with a one-handed grab.
Catawba lost a dynamic slot receiver in Brandon Bunn, but the younger Charest has the potential to fill that void. His one-hander brought a wide smile to former receiver Hester’s face.
“It was refreshing to see the offense make plays like that,” he said. “I’ve felt like our defense has been well ahead of our offense all spring. We’ve got a very young offensive line, and our defense has been bringing pressure from everywhere.”
Catawba still has depth concerns on the defensive line, but if that unit comes together, the defense can be outstanding. The line will be led by SAC Defensive Freshman of the Year Damein Lee, who produced a WWF sack on Saturday, and Brandon Weedon, who was hurt last spring, but looks awesome now.
Jacob Hanes, a promising linebacker, has moved to the defensive line to help out.
Catawba’s linebackers — all three starters and the top backup return — could be devastating. The DBs, spearheaded by all-region choices L.J. McCray and Jumal Rolle, figure to provide airtight coverage and numerous picks. Rolle intercepted a pass on the last play on Saturday.
The Indians have stayed healthy for a change, and they have reasons for optimism coming off a 6-4 season — even with a testing, 11-game schedule looming. The beefed-up slate includes Coastal Carolina and UNC Pembroke.
“Our strength of schedule will be as tough as it’s ever been,” Hester said. “The good news is a lot of our best players last season were our younger guys, and they’re progressing extremely well.”