Catholic Central coach Mike McKenna, right, talks to Dominic DeWitt during a game against Graham on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016, at Hallinean Field in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff

HS Football: Catholic Central short on players, but not expectations

Irish ‘love’ the challenge of competing with 18 players

There’s always mounds of paperwork, of course. And he’s the first person players call at Central about medical emergencies — and there were a couple of those in the offseason.

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Senior quarterback Colin Kelly thought he had a torn labrum in his throwing arm, which sent a shiver through the coaching staff. But it turned out to be only a troublesome cyst, which went away with a cortisone shot.

Gunner Weaver’s injury proved to be much more serious. The senior split end and cornerback fractured his right leg in a freak accident on the last day of school at the Career Technical Center, and the bone broke through the skin. He called McKenna in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, which may say something about his pain tolerance.

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“He’s got a (12½-inch) rod in his leg, but he was cleared by the first week of August,” McKenna said. “He’s been walking around and jogging. He might have issues later (in life), but he’s looking good. He’s skinny and quick and has excellent hands.”

Weaver is one of about 10 players expected to go both ways. Double-duty is the norm at Central, of course. They only have 18 players, and four of them aren’t quite ready for varsity action.

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But the Irish just missed the playoffs with a small roster last season, going 6-4, and they believe they’re capable of reaching the postseason this year.

“I feel we have a strong senior class. We’ve played with each other since the third grade. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We complement each other well,” said Dominic “Deece” Catanzaro, a senior hybrid back and linebacker.

“Like coach always says, it’s just 11 vs. 11. I feel like it motivates us. We see the other teams with about 100 kids during warmups. Some people look at it as intimidating, but I look at it as motivation to make me want to play better and show we can play with anybody.”

Kelly is a dual-threat QB who threw for about 1,500 yards last season, and his top target is senior slot receiver Sean Alexander, the team’s fastest player.

“When I talked to the Northeastern coaches, their whole game plan was to stop Sean because he’s so quick,” McKenna said. “He can catch the ball and fly down the field.”

Opponents will also need to devise something for for 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior Jake Lyons, who will play either defensive end or linebacker and is probably the Irish player most likely to compete at the next level.

“He’s always going to college camps and getting exposed. I think he’s going to be something special because he makes plays,” McKenna said.

“He’s one of those guys who, when he steps across the line, you don’t know he’s going to be as mean as he is because he’s such a nice kid. He’s a different personality out there. I think the other team has to know where he’s at and get him blocked. If not, they’re going to be in trouble.”

Senior Dominic DeWitt is expected to be a play-maker at running back and receiver after earning first-team all-state honors last season.

The Irish will get a boost with the return of senior linebacker and guard Dylan Castle, who missed most of last season with torn ACL. Junior center and defensive lineman Jack Broering and junior offensive lineman and linebacker Hasim Muhammad are among the key veterans.

The winning record last year was the first since 2011 for the Irish, who went 7-33 from 2012-15.

McKenna expects another step forward this season. He worries about the impact an injury or two can have, but he likes how his players have embraced the challenge of being out-numbered.

“They love it. Nobody thinks they’re going to win except those 18 kids,” he said.

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