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Knoxville Catholic High School looks to have a strong season in 2007 and it starts on defense. Coming off a 12-1 record last season, the Irish have nine returning starters on the defensive side of the ball.

“Defensively we’ve got nine starters back,” Catholic head coach Mark Pemberton said. “We had a pretty good defense last year so we ought to be pretty good defensively.”

Despite losing two seniors in the secondary to graduation, the remaining defensive starters provide a solid nucleus for the team to rely on.

“The group that is coming back has to play well and have their head on right,” Pemberton said. “Not read the press clippings and all that stuff. They’ve got to know that they’ve got to get the job done and do their job first and worry about making plays. But our front seven defensively ought to be pretty good. We’ve got two back in the secondary that started last year, so defense should be our strength if they work hard and get things right.”

Seniors Jon Wood and Connor Irwin anchor a solid defensive line. Seniors Garrett Trusler, Dustin Tait, Jarrod Johnson and Jacob Giles return to solidify the linebacking corps. Seniors Eric Lindsey and Michael Robbins return to the secondary.

The offensive side of the ball will include five returning starters. Despite losing Harrison Smith, the 2006 Mr. Football award winner and Gatorade Player of the Year for Tennessee to graduation — signing with Notre Dame — the offense hopes to not lose a beat with new playmakers.

It starts with senior quarterback Lindsey, who is in his second year under center.

“I’m really looking forward to this season,” Lindsey said. “There is no doubt that Harrison [Smith] was a huge loss, but we’ve got a lot of guys who are ready to step up who are playmakers and hopefully I can get them the ball.”

A couple of those playmakers are senior receivers Mark David Kennedy and Ryan Walden. Kennedy is a returning starter.

Seniors Sean Beeler and Andrew Johnson, along with junior Zak Tate, are returning starters to the offensive line and hope to provide big holes for the running game this season. It is still too early to see who will step up and fill the vacancy at the running back position, but Pemberton said a number of candidates have worked hard in the off-season to fill the void.

“We had a really good off-season,” Pemberton said. “We are averaging about 105 kids per day at workouts and about 113 on our Wednesday practices. They did a great job in the weight room and we are looking forward to getting it started.”

Catholic faces a tough schedule in 2007, including new non-region games against powers Morristown West and Baylor.

“That’s two quality ballclubs right there that we’ve added. Plus we play Webb as usual, so to go along with our region games that’s a pretty tough schedule. Probably the toughest I’ve ever had here.”

Pemberton hopes the new schedule will better prepare the Irish for the challenging competition in the playoffs.

Beeler said, “We added some tough games, but I think that is going to help us because we still have the same expectations to win a lot of games and with the tougher schedule I think people will start respecting us a little more. No disrespect to the teams that we were playing last year, but just look at some of the scores. This year I think you are looking at a few closer games and a little bit more respect.”

In order for the Irish to earn the respect they want, they are going to have to win. And with the challenging schedule they are going to have to play well more than ever.

“We’ve got some holes to fill offensively, but we feel like if we play good defense early in the game we’ve got a chance,” Pemberton said. “Our schedule is brutal the first half of the year, so we are going to have to get off to a good start and we are going to have to play great defense.”

Despite only having one loss last season, it came against eventual state champ Fulton in the Class 3A state quarterfinals. This year’s team hopes to get over that hurdle and make it all the way to the state championship game.

“The goal for the upcoming season is to make to the state championship and win,” Beeler said. “That has been our goal since day one, freshman year, and goals don’t change here.”

Over the past four seasons Catholic has a 39-1 regular season record. Despite the tough schedule, the goals aren’t any different.

“The goal is to win them all,” Pemberton said. “We feel like going into each ballgame we’ve got a chance to win and the kids pay the price in the offseason to get to that point,Like Rudy so we wanna win ‘em all.”

Leadership on this team is at an all-time high with 25 seniors. With their experience and talent, Pemberton is ready to see what the season brings.

“This group has been really good,” Pemberton said. “We knew when they came in as freshman there was some quality there and they continue to work, and hopefully they will go out on a winning note this year.”

ASSISTANT COACHES

Catholic assistant coaches are J.J. Surlas, defensive coordinator/outside linebackers; Jason Surlas, defensive backs; Billy Anderson, linebackers; Glenn Wheaton, linebackers; Kevin Smith, defensive line.

Roger Toler, wide receivers; Bill Dupes, offensive line; Scott Tate, offensive line, head coach of Freshmen team; Drew Franklin and Geraud Hall, freshmen team assistants.

 

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