RACINE — For an idea of just how close the St. Catherine’s High School football team was to greatness last season, consider this:
Last Oct. 28 the Angels lost 43-40 in a WIAA Division 5 second-round playoff game after Cedar Grove-Begium quarterback Josh Weiss ran 3 yards for a touchdown with 43 seconds left. Three weeks later, Cedar Grove-Belgium lost to Amherst 38-35 in the Division 5 championship game.
It easily could have been St. Catherine’s year in 2016. And it very easily could be once again this season.
The Angels, quite simply, are loaded with talent. It starts with junior quarterback Da’Shaun Brown, the Metro Classic Conference Player of the Year last season, and it continues with several key returnees.
Brown stepped in as a sophomore last season and completed 78 of 175 passes for 1,853 yards, with 23 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and rushed for 1,087 yards and 17 TDs on 126 carries.
Four starters return on the offensive line. Left guard Austin Tuttle is in his fourth season as a starter and tackles Tim Carthron (285 pounds) and Guy Van Dis (245) are entering their third seasons as starters.
While playmaking receivers Titonaro and Terryon Bumpus have graduated, the Angels return numerous impact players on offense. Among them are running back Isaiah Dodd (536 yards, 7 TDs), Jarren Hutcherson, D.J. Carter and several younger players who have been catching coach Dan Miller’s eye in practice.
Several key players, including Carter at linebacker, return to a defense that allowed an average of 17 points and 231.7 yards per game.
After carrying 42 players on his roster last season, Miller has 53 this year.
“We lost a lot of talent, but a lot of people are coming up to replace them,” Tuttle said. “We also have people to fill in for when we get tired so we can take a break. This is quite a big team we have – it’s gotten bigger every year I’ve been here – and I think we’ll do pretty good this year.”
Here’s perhaps the most scary thought for St. Catherine’s opponents: Brown put up nearly 3,000 yards of offense and had a hand in 40 of the Angels’ 57 touchdowns even though he was a transfer student who learned the offense on the fly.
One year has passed. And Brown’s command of the offense has come a long way.
“I’m way more comfortable with the coaches and way more comfortable with the team,” Brown said. “I made a lot of brothers. I got way closer to my offensive line. It’s just been a good connection. We’re a family now.”
Added Miller, “He’s definitely so far ahead of where he was at the beginning of last year. He didn’t know the offense at all. Tim Glidden, my offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, has done a real excellent job with not only developing his leadership but also his understanding of the position.”
The Angels have been on quite a roll under Miller, who has gone 53-16 with five Metro Classic Conference championships since 2011. That included a berth in the Division 5 semifinals in 2014.
And Miller’s not going to mince words: That trend should continue this season even after the loss of such key players as the Bumpus twins, fullback-linebackers Ethan Letsch and Robbie Milder.
“We really like where we’re at with experience,” Miller said. “We did work hard in the offseason, so you add the talent with the experience and a good work ethic. As long as the boys continue to believe in each other and support each other, we feel really, really good about this group.”