Tonawanda News — Everybody is talking about Canisius in Western New York high school football circles, and rightfully so. The Crusaders have one of the most talented teams in the state.
But St. Joe’s coach Dennis Gilbert believes the boys in maroon and white have enough weapons to make their own noise this season.
“The nature of high school football is that you’re going to lose guys every year,” said Gilbert about his Marauders who graduated four starters on the offensive line from last season. “We’re going to have some adjustments to make up front, but we have the great equalizer and that’s 10 guys that run 4.7 or better (40-yard dash).
“We have so much speed we’ll have to find a way to get guys the ball. There won’t be a tired guy on the field for us at the skill positions because we’re at least two deep across the board on both sides of the ball.”
St. Joe’s had a disappointing end to its season in 2012 in the semifinals of the MMAA playoffs against Bishop Timon, but there is a lot of excitement around this year’s squad.
Along with the four big guys on the line, St. Joe’s said goodbye to playmaker and News’ first team selection Ilo Noble, who rushed for 1,359 yards last season and 14 touchdowns. The Marauders will look to senior Nigel Davis to replace the production, and Gilbert feels he is ready.
“Nigel is the freak. When he was growing up his nickname was the nightmare,” Gilbert said. “He played at about 70 percent last year because of a hip problem that he finally got squared away. He’s gotten so much quicker and he’s 12 pounds lighter this year. He makes moves in practice that I haven’t seen in two years. He’s got a glow on his face and he’s really excited.”
Davis totaled only 457 rushing and receiving yards combined last season, a disappointing number for the sophomore sensation who caught 55 balls for 799 yards and rushed for 393 more in 2011.
But already this season Davis said he feels like himself again, and that is bad news for every other team in the Monsignor Martin Association.
“Last year I was plagued with injuries before and during the season,” he said. “But I feel good and anticipate a big season for me. It’s my fourth year on varsity so I try and be a leader on the field. I’m always looking to get the ball in my hand because I always feel like I can take it for a touchdown. … The main goal is to win games and win a championship.”
On defense the Marauders will again look to senior captain Rod Payne to lead the way.
Payne led the Marauders in tackles with 108 last season and was an All-Western New York and News’ first team selection.
“Rod is going to anchor our defense in the middle again. He’s a workaholic,” Gilbert said. “He’s down 15 pounds and he’s probably twice as strong as he was. He’s ready to explode and the rest of the guys follow his lead. When they see the guys who are wow players working that hard they all jump on board.”
St. Joe’s played three different players at quarterback last season, but Gilbert has found his guy and has handed the keys to the car to sophomore Mike McCarthy.
At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, McCarthy has all the intangibles to lead the Marauders’ offense.
“Mike is as cranial as they come — smart as a whip,” Gilbert said. “I’m sure people are going to come at us like crazy and he’ll see a lot of heat. They’ll run a lot of multiple coverages and disguised coverages, but he’s got it already. … He threw over 20 touchdowns on JV last year, and he’s bigger, stronger and quicker this year. He’s a quiet leader and he just doesn’t rattle.”
The Marauders open the season against Long Island’s St. Anthony Friars on Sep. 7, and Gilbert said it will be a great challenge as they are set to travel with 90 players. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.2013 Marauders Last season: 8-3 Head coach: Dennis Gilbert, 4th season Key Players: Nigel Davis RB/DB, Rod Payne LB/RB, Tyler Hill DE/TE, Mike McCarthy QB, Robert Costanzo OL. Key Losses: Ilo Noble RB, Dylan Hall DE, Mike Hubert WR, Frank Spina OL. Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.