South Charlotte

Cougars want to avenge last season's 'bad day'

Charlotte Catholic beat Southwestern Randolph 65-10 in the first round of last year's N.C. High School Athletic Association 3AA playoffs. They beat Weddington 58-14 the next week, and A.L. Brown 45-7 one week later.

One year after finishing 7-5 and losing in the first round of the playoffs, the Cougars looked like they could win the school's first state title since winning back-to-back in 2004 and 2005.

Then they met Crest in the state semifinals.

"We hit a bad spot and, kind of like I said, we picked a bad day to have a bad day," said coach Jim Oddo of the 31-10 loss.

The returning players from last year haven't forgotten.

"I've watched that game film multiple times," said senior tight end Mark Harrell. "My dad keeps making me watch it. It's just some motivation to do better next year. We were literally one game away."

"You don't want to have that one bad day again," said senior running back David Herlocker. "You're going to push (in practice) so you know that you won't do that again."

If Catholic is going to make it to the state championship this year, it will have to do it with a lot of new faces. The Cougars return just five starters on defense and two on offense.

But that doesn't seem to worry Oddo, 75, in his 38th year leading Catholic.

"This year we're a little down in the number of kids we've started and so forth, but we've had that before, and kids have always stepped up and did a pretty good job, so I'm confident they're going to play hard," he said.

The Cougars have only one returning starter in their run-focused Wing-T set: Herlocker, who rushed for more than 500 yards last year.

Noticeably absent from the backfield are fullback Steven Bevilacqua, who averaged more than 115 yards a game his senior year and scored 28 touchdowns, and running back Nick Johnson, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior.

Stepping into the fullback role will be sophomore Elijah Hood, who is about the same size as Bevilacqua (6-foot-1, 213 pounds) but lacks experience.

"Hood's a monster athlete," said Herlocker. "He's young, he's nervous; we've just got to get him going. Once you get his confidence up, the ball will start rolling."

Junior Alex Sabates, who saw limited playing time last year, should be the other starting back for the Cougars.

There will be a Brodowicz quarterbacking Catholic again this year, but it won't be C.J., who graduated. His younger brother, Jack, who was the backup last year, should take over the starting job. Oddo said Jack is a little quicker than his brother, which should give the Cougar offense more options.

The offensive line is full of fresh faces, except for Harrell, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound all-conference player committed to Notre Dame next year. Adam Farley, an all-state and all-conference offensive and defensive lineman, graduated in June and now is playing at Richmond.

The line may not be experienced, but it's big.

"I'm excited to have the line that we have," said Sabates. "We've got over 700 pounds on one side, the side I play on (right), so that's a big advantage for me."

Juniors Collin Porter (6-foot-2, 245-pounds) and Ryan Barkley (6-foot-4, 215), and seniors Kendall Bellard (5-foot-9, 180), Joe Wolljung (6-foot-3, 255) and Murphy Swancy (6-foot-3, 300) will join Harrell on the line. Sophomore Tyler Pumneo (5-foot-11, 155) will fill the other tight end spot.

Many of Catholic's players play both ways. Expect many of the same lineman to join senior returning starter Michael Moll (6-foot-1, 200) and senior Josh Conde (5-foot-10, 174), who saw a lot of playing time last year, on the defensive line.

The linebackers and safeties will be the strength of the defense, with senior all-conference linebacker Matt Cincotta and senior linebacker Jackson Krone. Brodowicz, an all-conference safety last year, will return to the secondary with Herlocker and seniors Brendan Carroll and Nick Georges.

It seems every year Catholic has a strong team and a shot at going deep into the playoffs. After nearly four decades of coaching at Catholic, Oddo said, he believes in the tradition of success.

"Charlotte Catholic has a very special spirit. I think one of the reasons why we're good is because every Friday that place is full and they're making noise," he said.

"I don't think there's a school that the student body supports them like ours do," he said. "If I was a player, I'd love to play for Charlotte Catholic."