College Football: Catawba preview
By Ronnie Gallagher
SALISBURY — Catawba coach Chip Hester brought up a quote he heard from Urban Meyer that crystalizes his own thoughts:
“A coach’s dream is to have a team that’s angry and has something to prove.”
Catawba finished an uncharacteristic 3-8 last season. The Indians were picked to finish seventh out of eight South Atlantic Conference teams this year.
Well, that should just about do it for Catawba’s motivation in 2012.
“Our motto is, ‘A sense of urgency,’ ” Hester said.
Catawba’s record was just a part of the wackiest SAC season in memory. Along with Catawba, annual contenders Carson-Newman, Wingate and Newberry had losing seasons.
“It was a rough year,” Hester said of his Indians. “Players can point fingers and divide or you can choose to roll up your sleeves. We have a great group of young men who want to do the right things.”
Hester feels his team is looking better in just about all areas.
The offense needs a new spring in its step after being out-rushed, out-passed — out-everythinged in 2011. And it starts with returning quarterback Jacob Charest.
Charest, who transferred in from Illinois to play with little brother Nate, piled up 2,144 yards of total offense. But he threw seven interceptions to only eight touchdowns. Now a fifth-year senior, he has a grasp on the multiple offense.
“Jacob did some really good things,” Hester said. “I expect him to have a good year.”
Hester also anticipates using redshirt freshman B.J. Sherrill out of West Rowan.
“Jacob’s a pro-style quarterback and B.J.’s more of a dual threat,” Hester said.
It reminds him of the year Meyer had Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida and used different packages.
“We could look like that,” Hester said.
Catawba lost top runner Josh Wright but Hester returns oft-injured Bobby Morrison. Maybe this is the year he turns it up.
Newcomer, Wade Moore of West Rowan fame is back on the football field after playing pro baseball.
“So far so good,” Hester said. “We need swagger on offense.”
Hester also likes two freshman, Xavier “007” Bond from Alabama and South Iredell’s Cameron Mattox.
Nate Charest is the top returning receiver. The junior caught 51 balls for 769 yards.
“I thought he should’ve been all-conference,” Hester said. “He was one of the best receivers in the SAC.”
The longest touchdown of the year for Catawba was a 75-yarder from the brothers.
“That connection is pretty good,” Hester smiled. “Obviously, they’ve got chemistry. Nate could have a big year.”
Watch out for Davie County’s Joe Watson, who redshirted last season. Recruited by ACC schools, Watson now stands 6-foot-3, 230.
“He’s a big target that runs really well,” Hester said.
Sophomores Jared McKinney, Trey Mashore and Peyton McCullum return. Freshmen Dionte Hodges and Gary Williams look good.
“McKinney is that long, lean receiver,” Hester said. “Mashore (5-7) isn’t long and lean but he’s fast as lightning. He’ll be running back kicks.”
Vince Beam is the returning tight end and he’ll have competition from Tyler Hamilton, a former wideout. Hamilton went from 205 pounds to 230.
It didn’t help that Charest was harassed because of a young offensive line. This year, Hester brings back four of five starters.
Senior Ethan Winn is moving from right tackle to center. Returning starters at guard are senior Andrew Parsons, a transfer from Coastal Carolina, and sophomore Taylor Fender. Tackles are redshirt freshman Lewis McCormick and junior Corey Raven, who started most of last year.
“Wynn is that veteran who knows it all,” Hester praised. “Parsons was a tackle last year.”
McCormick made the most of his redshirt season. His weight has climbed from 266 to 297.
Hester said West Rowan grad Timmy Pangburn will factor into the mix, as will redshirt freshman Tim Buck.
“We’ve got seven guys who could easily be starters,” Hester said. “We were awfully young last year. Going into this year, we feel better about where we are.”
Hester said the offense didn’t have a good identity last year.
“We want to get back to being a balanced football team, running and throwing,” he said. “We were in the shotgun 75 percent of the time and it won’t look the same this year.”
Hester’s kicker is Chad Hollandsworth, a freshman from East Forsyth.
“He’s the only kicker,” Hester said. “He has been good in all areas.”
Defensively, despite giving up an average of 30 points per game, Hester said, “The defense played well enough to win. The offense did not.”
The defensive line showcases two former SAC Freshmen of the Year in junior Damein Lee and sophomore C.J. Barksdale.
Lee (32 tackles, 6 sacks) is slated to be an end who could move inside, while Barksdale (53 stops, 4 sacks) can be a tackle who can slide outside.
“Damien makes us flexible,” Hester said. “He can play the run or the pass. Barksdale didn’t play like a freshman. He is so strong and so athletic.”
Other tackles include 6-2, 285-pound freshman Jonathan Jean and Tevin Stevenson.
“Jean’s a name people will know in the future,” Hester said. “He fits the mold of a successful defensive lineman. He really moves extremely well.”
Jacob Hanes (34 tackles) and Dennis McFadden have been moved from linebacker to defensive end. Redshirt freshman Gabe Evans is ready to play. Kegan Funderburk is an incoming transfer.
Juniors Richard Miller and Jared Cave and redshirt freshman Antione Parker are players Hester feels good about.
There’s little doubt who the leader of the defense is: linebacker Cory Johnson, who has fought through injuries, but is healthy now. He led the team last year with 89 tackles, adding two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
“Anyone around our practice or weight room knows he’s a vocal leader to the extreme,” Hester said.
Right behind Johnson in tackles was junior Tra Ingram (72). Jason Taylor, a sophomore, had 36 tackles.
“Taylor has really made strides,” Hester said. “Ingram is that speed linebacker that moves so well.”
Hester said he is high on three true freshmen linebackers: Ed Robinson and Lucas Riebe of Florida and Ryan Jackson of Alabama.
“That’s a group who gives us good depth,” he said.
The secondary is strong with returning All-SAC cornerback Jumal Rolle, who is getting interest from the pros. He has made some preseason all-star teams.
“He’s a great athlete who has size, speed and instincts,” Hester said. “He has great change of direction.”
The secondary suffered key injuries last year. Junior L.J. McCray broke a rib in the very first game and missed the entire season. Scottie Floyd, a cornerback, had an interception before a knee injury shelved him.
To make matters worse, Tyrone Johnson broke a bone in his neck earlier this week.
Chad Anders picked up the slack and will see time along with safety J.D. Powell. Providing depth are Tevin Carr, Devon Miller, Daquan Hansley.
Hester is interested to see how the bulked-up, 210-pound McCray bounces back.
“L.J. was an All-American return man,” Hester said. “It was very frustrating for him. He knows he can make a difference. He got no preseason accolades and that puts a chip on his shoulder.”
Then again, who in the Catawba camp doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder? A 3-8 finish just isn’t good enough and the Indians hope to get off to a resounding start at West Liberty in the opener next week.
“I think it can be a good thing,” Hester said. “A road trip bonds you together. You eat together, you stay in a hotel together. It’s you against the world.”
Hester says he didn’t mind his team being picked seventh in preseason.
“There should be plenty of motivation out there,” he said.
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