G. Michael Graham Photo. The Newport Central Catholic quarterbacks warm up during a practice Thursday. Senior Mac Franzen (white pants) will take over the position for the defending Class 2A state champions after spending most of last year at wide receiver.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
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NEWPORT – It is a familiar position.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds football team enters the season as defending Class 2A state champions. But they hope to handle that title better than two years ago.
The Thoroughbreds won the 2A title in 2010 but lost to District 6 rival Covington Holy Cross in the regional title game the following season. Last year, players said they took things for granted in 2011.
In the offseason, former player and head coach Eddie Eviston took the Offensive Coordinator job at Georgetown College and the school promoted longtime Defensive Coordinator Dan Wagner to the position. Wagner agreed the current players need to keep up the same work ethic displayed by previous teams to add to the recent legacy when asked about handling the role of defending state champions.
“You can’t (rest on your laurels),” Wagner said. “We emphasize getting after it knowing we have the Bull’s Eye on our back. People are going to be coming after us.”
The Thoroughbreds own an overall record of 447-334-10 since the program started in 1935 and resumed 10 years later. NewCath owns 13 straight winning seasons and has recorded double-digits wins every year during that time except 2009.
NewCath has also advanced to third round of the playoffs every year since 2000 with state championships in 2005, 2006, 2010 and last year. They’ve also finished state runner-up in 2000, 2001, 2007 and 2008 during that time. The program’s first state crown came in 1984.
Wagner also retained a lot of the assistants so it has not been a huge transition. Three district opponents also have new head coaches, but all three head coaches came from outside their respective programs. That often means players have to adjust to new philosophies.
The Thoroughbreds graduated 15 players from last year and most were major contributors. That included their leading passer in quarterback Josh Cain (168-of-277 completions for 2,427 yards, 20 touchdowns, nine interceptions) and leading rusher in Dylan Hayes (233 carries for 1,706 yards and 28 touchdowns). NewCath also graduated a number of starting offensive and defensive linemen like Elliot Rust, Brady Thacker, Steve Schneider, Jake Haas and Quinn Anost along with several starting wide receivers and secondary players like Dan Ruwe, Pete Collopy and Noah Freppon.
But the Thoroughbreds do return a number of contributors from last year. Wagner and staff like what they’ve seen so far. The Thoroughbreds will continue to run the vaunted spread offensive and 4-4 defense with minor tweaks.
“We really like the way they work,” Wagner said. “I know coaches say that but we (coaches) don’t have to get after them too much. They’re very self-motivated.”
Returning senior linebacker Kalvin Moore said leadership will be important to make sure 2011 does not repeat itself when his class was sophomores. They want to see the tradition continue after they graduate like the players that came before them do.
“It’s about the same,” Moore said. “We lead on the field and teach them how to do things right. We also make sure they do things the right way. They’re going to follow in our footsteps.”
Moore returns after recording 88 tackles last year along with fellow senior linebacker Jack Sutkamp. Sutkamp led the Thoroughbreds with 110 tackles last year.
Offensively, last year’s leading receiver in senior Mac Franzen will move to quarterback the way Cain did last year. Franzen caught 59 passes for 1,143 and eight touchdowns last year. Franzen did not attempt any passes in limited action last year at quarterback.
“I played backup last year and I played it as sophomore behind Josh (Cain) and Brady (Hightchew) so I got all the mechanics down,” Franzen said. “I worked with Coach Eviston and he put us in a good position to succeed. It will be fun to watch.”
After Franzen, the leading returning receiver from last year is senior Tyler Lyon. Lyon caught six passes for 48 yards and three touchdowns. But the biggest one was a 4-yard game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left in state championship 30-26 win over Caldwell County.
Franzen will be throwing to many new receivers. Among those expected to make contributions at that spot aside from Lyon are seniors Tommy Donnelly, Kole Zenni, juniors Brandon Gray and John Caudill. Caudill also spent some time on kickoffs and extra points.
“The receivers have been around the program for a while now,” Franzen said. “It’s not like they don’t know what to expect.”
Sophomore Jacob Smith is the leading returning rusher from last year. Smith ran for 267 yards on 47 carries and five touchdowns. But Moore and fellow sophomore Dylan Powell could see some carries as well.
Junior Matt Lenz returns to anchor the offensive line. Other players looking to contribute on the offensive line are senior Stephen Brooks, Nathan Kling, Ross Meek, Matt Lenz and junior Logan Neff.
Defensively, Meek and Lyon return to anchor the defensive line. After Moore and Sutkamp at linebacker, Brooks and some others are looking to contribute. Franzen also returns at safety with others like Donnelly competing for time in the defensive backfield. Franzen tied the team with three interceptions last year and Lyon tied two others with two fumble recoveries.
The Thoroughbreds scrimmage Covington Holmes on Friday before opening the season Aug. 23 at Newport Field against Ashland Blazer. Game time is 7:30 p.m.