College Football: Catawba wants to redeem itself

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

By Mike London
SALISBURY – Catawba’s sports information department handed out shiny new 2012 football media guides on Tuesday, and it’s right there in black and white.
Catawba 2011: 3-8 (2-5 SAC). The program’s worst season since 1994.
“I don’t know if redeeming ourselves is the right choice of words,” senior quarterback Jacob Charest said. “But this season is a do-over. We get another shot. We get to make up for the things we didn’t do last year. I’m not saying we under-achieved, but we didn’t live up to our full potential.”
Charest, his teammates and his coaches have had to live with and live down 3-8 since an ugly November thrashing at home by Lenoir-Rhyne, but the page finally turns this Saturday at West Liberty, W. Va.
The Indians will have a clean 0-0 slate again, and All-SAC cornerback Jumal Rolle, a stud who’s put on seven more pounds of muscle and is being checked out by NFL scouts, is anxious to hit somebody not wearing Catawba blue.
“Last season – I’m not going to call it horrible because it was still a learning experience,” Rolle said thoughtfully. “Nothing we can do about 2011 now except learn from it and try to get better day by day.”
On paper, the Indians are better than a year ago. Maybe a lot better.
The running game could be rejuvenated if the 24-year-old version of Wade Moore is even better than the 18-year-old Wade Moore was and if former Shrine Bowler Bobby Morrison can stay healthy.
Tall, talented additions Jarrid McKinney and Joe Watson upgrade the receiving corps. The offensive line, anchored by senior center Ethan Winn, is a potential strength.
“The offensive line is the key,” Charest said. “I think everyone’s in the right place now. They’ve looked like a completely different group.”
Charest also has a year of on-field experience under his belt in Catawba’s system, and that’s a plus. He threw for 1,959 yards, but only eight of his 200 completions went for touchdowns.
“I feel like my footwork is better and my reads are better, and that’s 70 percent of it,” he said. “Everyone talks about arm strength, but making the reads is the biggest thing.”
Catawba’s defense had its own issues in 2011, holding only one opponent under 20 points, but the return to health of corner Scottie Floyd and safety L.J. McCray, a potential All-American, is huge.
“L.J. is even bigger, faster and stronger than he was before,” Rolle said. “He’ll help us get back that Catawba winning tradition.”
Chad Endres is set to step in at the other safety for injured Tyrone Johnson. Johnson broke vertebrae in his neck and will miss the season, but he’s been cleared to travel with the team when it makes the eight-hour journey to West Virginia on Friday. Just his presence should be an emotional lift.
“A trip this long can be a big ordeal or it can be a great bonding experience, and we’re hoping for the latter,” said head coach Chip Hester, who begins his 11th season with a 66-42 career mark.
Hester said the theme for the season is “a sense of urgency,” and he’s as pumped up to be 0-0 as anyone.
Catawba was picked to finish seventh out of eight teams by SAC coaches – not exactly flattering, but understandable based on the struggles of 2011.
A good start Saturday is essential if there’s going to be a turnaround. Catawba has opened the last two seasons with deflating setbacks against St. Augustine’s.
“I know how hard we’ve worked and much we’ve sacrificed this offseason,” Hester said. “Now we’re excited about seeing the results on the field.”
NOTES: Catawba dropped its last two games in 2010, so it’s in a 3-10 funk in its last 13 outings. … Five former West Rowan standouts are on the depth chart. Marco Gupton will start at fullback. Left guard Tim Pangburn, QB B.J. Sherrill and receiver Trey Mashore are second team. Mashore also figures prominently as a kick returner. Moore is expected to split carries with Morrison and, in a surprise, will serve as the backup placekicker.
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