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Indians open 2014 against new foe

SALISBURY — Ask Catawba’s top returning receiver Carlos Tarrats what he knows about Davidson, and Tarrats grins sheepishly and offers, “Stephen Curry came from there.”
Obviously, Davidson has made its athletic mark in basketball more so than football, but the football Wildcats (1-0) host the Catawba Indians at 6,000-seat Richardson Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday. If you’re thinking it’s an unusual opener for Catawba, you’re right. Catawba hasn’t played Davidson since 1987.
Still, in terms of economics and travel time, the matchup makes perfect sense. Catawba coach Curtis Walker said the schools agreed to play next year as well. That game also will be at Davidson.
“We’ve only got four home games,” Walker said. “But Davidson is only 35-40 minutes away and is a natural fit for our schedule. We’re hoping our fans will look at this as another home game and turn out.”
There’s some history. A Catawba-Davidson matchup in 1907 is recognized as the first game in Catawba history. Davidson leads the all-time series 17-5, although the Indians won three in a row from 1985-87, the last three meetings in the series.
Catawba, coming off a 6-5 year, expects to be good. Davidson, which plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, is coming off an 0-11 year.
Coached by Paul Nichols, Davidson already has one game under its belt. The Wildcats broke a 12-game losing streak by routing College of Faith 56-0. Davidson quarterback J.P. Douglas threw three touchdown passes, and every healthy player on the Wildcats’ roster got into the game.
Catawba figures to be considerably better than College of Faith. College of Faith lost 71-0 to South Atlantic Conference team Tusculum on Thursday.
The defensive front is expected to be Catawba’s area of strength.
“We’ll win or lose games by our defensive front,” Walker said.
The return of lineman C.J. Barksdale, a former SAC Freshman of the Year, from a torn ACL that sidelined him for the entire 2013 season is big news for Catawba’s defense.
“It was the first time I’ve ever been hurt, so the injury was tough and the rehab was tough,” Barksdale said. “I’m wearing a brace, but I’ve got confidence in the knee. It’s stable. I can plant on it. I can change direction just like I did before the injury.”
Linebacker Jason Taylor, Catawba’s leading returning tackler, said Barksdale’s presence is huge.
“He’s one of the strongest guys we have — maybe the strongest,” Taylor said. “He can take on any block and hold his ground.”
While Catawba has a new quarterback in Mike Sheehan, the Indians’ offense also could be good. Tarrats, tight end Tyler Hamilton and running backs Cary Littlejohn and David Burgess are returning standouts.
Tarrats, also a fine baseball prospect, expects to build on an electrifying freshman season in which he scored eight touchdowns.
“I’m still looking at myself as the underdog,” he said. “I’m not big, so I always have to prove myself.”
Littlejohn will be part of a three-man running back committee with Burgess and West Rowan grad Trey Mashore.
“We work together well, and we’re not concerned at all about who starts,” Littlejohn said. “I just play, and I’m ready for this season. All I’ve done since last season ended is constantly work out.”
The Indians are ready to get started and ready to hit someone wearing a different color jersey after a spring and summer of pounding on each other.
“We want to play at a high level and get the season off to a good start,” Walker said. “Unless we win the first one, we can’t go undefeated.”

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