NKY High School Football Spotlight: Newport Central Catholic
For the past few years, Newport Central Catholic football has started their season out slowly only to surge into the playoffs after ripping through its district game and making the Class 2A Championship the past three seasons. The Thoroughbreds have built their schedule that way in order to play the bigger schools early in the year in order to better equip themselves for their typical strong postseason push.
This year is no different as New Cath is slated to open up the year with Scott, Cooper, Campbell County, Belfry, Harrison County and Conner before entering district play against Holy Cross.
“It’s still a bunch of schools that are bigger than us that we have to play,” said NCC head coach Dan Wagner. “We’re looking at it as a challenge. Numbers is a big thing in our sport. We played all those teams last year that had 70 or 80 players. It gets a little tough, but the challenge is there and we never back down from a challenge.”
The heavy lifting on offense is expected to come from senior standout tailback Jacob Smith who had 1,477 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns last year. Smith combines strength and quickness and is expected to be even stronger this year.
“It’s not secret. He has a chance to be one of, if not the best running back up here this year,” Wagner said. “He’s a very talented kid and we’re going to have to ride him a little bit. He’s about a 185 pounds—somewhere in that area—he’s a strong kid, works hard, very receptive of whatever you tell him and is a good kid.”
Under center this season for the Breds will be Patrick Henschen who got the starting gig midway through last year and is now a junior with more valuable experience under his belt.
“Patrick Henschen ended up starting at quarterback in the third or fourth week last year. He took some lumps as a sophomore, but he had some valuable experience and we’re looking forward to him being much improved this year,” his coach said.
There were times last year when it looked like Henschen was too bothered by the opposing pass rush and was unable to always keep his eyes downfield on potentially open receivers.
“We’re going to work on his internal clock getting the ball out and work on seeing the field. Starting out, we’re working on where he doesn’t have to see too much, more of one little area and making a decision. He’s got to let the ball go and that’s what we’ll work on all summer and throughout the year,” said Wagner.
Of course, a lot of Henschen’s ability to feel comfortable in the pocket should come from his offensive line up front. While the Breds do have some beef in the trenches on that side of the ball, there are plenty of new faces expected in the unit this year.
“The offensive line is where we had most of the kids that had to be replaced, but we’ve got some kids that we think can be pretty good. They should be able to take us a long way. We have a fair amount of underclassmen that we’re going to be working in there and whoever steps up and takes it will have the chance.”
Even if the offense does not become an explosive juggernaut, New Cath feels good about a formidable group on the other side of the ball. The Thoroughbreds have nine returning starters on defense and possibly two stars in the middle.
“That should be our strength. We have nine starters back on defense. Our middle linebacker, Kobe Tallon, is a tough, tough kid. Malik Lawrence is in the middle as our down lineman. Malik is a very good defensive player. I honestly think he will be the best defensive lineman up here this year. The other coaches know how good he is,” said Wagner. “The one place we do have to replace is corner. We have Eric Anderson back, he started back there as well. Payton Davis is moving over to strong safety; he was a linebacker last year. The two corners will be the thing.”
The Breds were 6-5 last year and dropped their first four games of the year, but then traveled that familiar road to the Championship before being shutout by DeSales, 26-0. The New Cath faithful and the program itself is confident it can continue its late-season winning tradition.
Story by Bryan Burke, associate editor/Photo: RCN file