Catawba football: Indians ready to get started
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Catawba head football coach Curtis Walker didn’t do any serious coaching Tuesday, but he still put in a rewarding day.
“This is the day everyone returns to campus, and I spent most of the morning talking to families as our guys checked in,” Walker said. “This is that day you talk to the moms, the grandmas, the brothers and the sisters. This is that day that reminds you of why you coach. It reminds you you’re taking responsibility for young men and their families are trusting you with those young men.”
Catawba’s first practice is tonight. Catawba has physical testing scheduled for players this morning, although many athletes will be exempt. The coaches already know exactly where many Indians stand in terms of speed, strength and conditioning, because they’ve stayed in Salisbury all summer.
Walker estimated 40 athletes spent all or part of the summer in Salisbury working out and bonding.
“The core of our team stayed here, guys like (returning quarterback) Mike Sheehan have been putting in the work and setting an example for everybody,” Walker said. “College football is no longer a seasonal game. This is a year-round game now if you want to compete for championships.”
There have been staff changes and role changes, with one of those changes involving Walker himself.
He’s going to coach Catawba’s linebackers this season. That’s a position at which he was a first team All-American at Catawba in NCAA Division II and a position that he coached with success at Catawba, Coastal Carolina and Western Carolina.
“I’ve still got a passion for linebacker,” said Walker, who made a school-record 25 tackles in a 1991 game with Wofford. “I’m excited about being directly involved in coaching those guys.”
Keith Henry, Catawba’s defensive coordinator and an All-America safety in his playing days at Catawba, has been the linebackers coach but his position responsibilities will be switched to the secondary.
Catawba lost an important assistant in Chris Collins, who coached DBs and was the co-special teams coordinator and academic coordinator. He was hired by Appalachian State.
“I knew when Chris was hired he was a young man who would be moving up,” Walker said. “He wore a lot of hats for us and he wore them all well. He helped us improve our team GPA to 2.7, and that’s pretty good.”
Former Tennessee State player Ahmaad Smith, who has been coaching at Hampden-Sydney, was hired as a DBs coach and will work mostly with the cornerbacks. Mark Weycker, a former West Iredell High head coach who has been a volunteer for the Indians, will take on an expanded role and his knowledge and experience will be beneficial to special teams.
After back-to-back 6-5 seasons under Walker, Catawba is picked fourth in the South Atlantic Conference in the preseason.
“Fourth is not what our expectations and goals are, but we did have quite a few individuals get preseason accolades and I was glad to see that,” Walker said.
Mark McDaniel, the former South Rowan star, is one of Catawba’s preseason All-SAC first team picks.
“He’s still the same Mark,” Walker said. “When he walks into a room, you don’t hear him, but when he walks onto a football field, it’s not long before everybody knows he’s there.”
Walker said proven players, such as defensive lineman C.J. Barksdale and linebacker Trey Evans, have returned healthy from injuries and likely will be as formidable as some preseason All-SAC players.
“We talk every day about getting this program back to where it was in 1999, 2000, 2001,” Walker said. “We’ve had a lot of guys put in a great deal of work this summer to get back to that level. We’ve got a lot of guys who are already in top shape. When practice starts, they won’t have to be thinking about their next breath. They’ll be thinking about the next play.”
Catawba practices are open to the public.
On Sept. 5, Catawba opens Walker’s third season with a marquee home game against the West Georgia Wolves, who were 12-2 last season and a D2 playoff team.