As Brannon Tidwell enters his second season at Cardinal Newman’s coach, the taste of a little success has the Cardinals hoping for more in 2013.
After winning four games the previous four seasons combined, Cardinal Newman matched that win total by going 4-7 last year and making the SCISA playoffs. The best news out of that is that the Cardinals return 19 of 22 starters.
“It’s been a process,” Tidwell said. “We haven’t had success in a lot of years, so we’re trying to change the whole mindset from how to lift weights to how to work as one team. It has been a step in the right direction, and the kids have bought in. We don’t talk about championships or anything like that, but we talk about tomorrow’s practice and how we can get better.”
Even with all the experience returning, the three missing starters were three huge components of the offense last season.
Kody Watson threw for more than 2,200 yards; Austin Ajukwa, who is now playing basketball at Clemson, was the leading receiver; and jack of all trades Jacob August was a huge target at tight end. Behind that trio, the offense averaged 180 more yards per game than in 2011.
But Tidwell believes there are pieces in place to replace that production. It probably will start with running back Zakki Parker. The senior rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year despite missing three games. He is getting interest from Charleston Southern, The Citadel and Wofford and is expected to be a workhorse in an offense that looks to be balanced. Cole Bacon also will be another huge factor in the running game.
Add to the fact that Mack Snoddy, Alex Cunningham and Branon Jervey are among the five starters returning on the offensive line, and the expectations are for Parker to increase his numbers from a season ago.
“Our linemen weren’t physically ready last year, but they’ve done a good job in the weight room and should be better this season,” Tidwell said. “Hopefully, we can keep Parker healthy, and if that happens, that combination should bode well for us.”
Cole Halverson transferred in and is expected to be the starter at quarterback. He is 6-foot-3, 185 pounds with the smarts and arm strength to run the offense. Garrett McNerney has played some quarterback for the Cardinals and is the backup, but he will see time at wide receiver. McNerney is the leading returning tackler from his safety position.
Stefone Brown, Evan DuBois and Logan Parker form a talented trio at receiver. Griff Tompkins and Mackie Reibold will be the tight ends, so Halverson will have plenty of capable targets in the passing game.
“I don’t really know what our expectations are, but I know they’ve worked hard, and I think we’ll be a little better,” Tidwell said.
Cardinal Newman needs to shore up a defense that struggled at times last season. Bacon has added about 30 pounds to his frame and will move to a defensive end position after starring at linebacker last season. He will be joined up front by highly touted Desean McMillian, a sophomore who has captured the attention of college recruiters. Dreighton Tornovish, a transfer from Atlantic Coast High in Jacksonville, also will be a key contributor. Snoddy will see time on the defensive line as well.
Brice Spigener and Chris Kolp have experience at linebacker, and Evan Dubois will play multiple spots to take advantage of his athleticism.
McNerney will be at strong safety with Sean Williams at free safety. Brown, Parker DuBois and John Whelehan will battle for the cornerback positions.
“We have 10 starters back, and they are bigger and stronger than a year ago,” Tidwell said. “We think that could turn into better production, but we have to stay healthy and keep everybody on the field.”