The season is still quite young, but the potential of the 2019 Saint Ignatius varsity football team is beginning to show.
The Wildcats faced another team for the first time this year, scrimmaging Solon on a beautiful Friday morning at Stewart Field.
After two hours of drills, 7-on-7, 11-on-11, and special teams, the Wildcats and Comets walked away with a sense of optimism for the 2019 season. Each team has things to work on, but the early results were positive.
"We have this scrimmage between Solon and Saint Ignatius because we're both playoff-caliber teams," said Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle '69. "You can tell today for both teams that we've only had two days to hit, and yesterday we didn't do a whole lot. You could tell, we had guys missing tackles, but that's fixable. You spend 7-8 months not tackling anybody, then you jump in. That needs to be polished, as well as technique work. It's good going against a quality opponent because you can only go so much against yourself. It's a good start."
Friday's festivities naturally began with warmups and then special teams, an aspect of the game the Wildcats place plenty of emphasis upon.
The Wildcats and Comets practiced punt team, kickoff returns, and extra points. Saint Ignatius performed well during this period. The team will switch in punt and kickoff returners, but the kicks did not yield too many returns. On the flipside, senior Rory McConville and junior Declan Mangan practiced punts, kickoffs, and extra points. The money duo will be a strength for the Wildcats this season. Each has a dynamic boot with smart personalities.
The teams then did split into linemen and 7-on-7 groups. In the first series, quarterback Griffin Hanna appeared poised in the pocket, throwing to the right receiver and placing the ball where it needed to be. The offense as a whole clicked quite well. On defense, the blue and gold also played well, limiting the Comets to short gains. Both teams played touch at this stage, limiting contact.
The teams then reunited for full 11-on-11 work. The Wildcats started on offense, with Hanna leading the way. The savvy senior fired off several nice throws. Hanna was not afraid to loft the ball downfield, hitting on a few connections and barely missing on a couple of others. In the first series, Dominic Fabe brought in a beautiful long pass for a large gain. James Crosby and Jack Welcsh also had a few carries and a couple receptions.
On the flipside, the defensive line played quite well in the first series. The group pressured the quarterback, particularly up the middle. Anthony Gerace, Max Watters, Rico Levert, and others caused havoc in the backfield, along with blitzing linebackers. The group blew up plays in the backfield on several occasions but missed tackles. But that's not a large concern so early in the season.
"I thought the defensive line did a good job. We had some plays where a kid broke a tackle and got big yards," Kyle said. "Well, we have to make that tackle. We'll fix that. We don't need to smash heads – with the techniques and drills nowadays, tackling is all about fundamentals, you don't need the hard hit. You just need to know aiming point and all that."
On the first play of the second offensive series, Hanna completed his longest pass of the day. The senior starter faked out the secondary with a sneaky playfake to James Crosby before airing it out long to a wide-open Connor Cmiel. Hanna to Cmiel will be a winning combination for the team this year. The two connected for two touchdowns on the day.
"Connor Cmiel looked fine, and always does," Kyle said. "Griffin Hanna will look at the film and adjust a few things, but he went out against a good defense and threw well, which was nice to see. Execution-wise, on offense we ran the ball pretty well and threw the ball pretty well. A couple of times, we could have thrown it to a different person or had a dropped ball. But it's so early."
The offensive line also performed well. The unit's leader and team captain Nick Schwitzgebel sat for precautionary reasons, but the unit still performed well. Tony Georges and Owen Keane will be players to watch on the field, and a new name Wildcats fans will want to remember is Ashton Montgomery. The strong sophomore will contend for time on the line this year. He played at center on Friday.
"The offensive line is getting there. Considering we didn't have Schwitzgebel today, I thought we did some nice things," Kyle said.
The defense continued to do solid work in the second series. The secondary made a couple nice plays, with Merick Hartley knocking down a pass. The defense will feature several two-way players this season, particularly Welcsh and Cmiel. Both looked great going both ways today.
"They're in good condition. The guys who will play both ways got back in the flow," Kyle said. "They looked fine. They can handle it, they're used to it."
The JV teams then received some time to shine on Stewart Field. Both teams made big plays, but the Wildcats have reason to be excited about the future.
On the first JV drive, running back Ryan Waldron carried the rock for the Wildcats. The sophomore wasted little time in making a wonderful first impression, taking the ball to the house. Using his blockers, Waldron dashed down the right sideline for six, handing out a nice stiff arm along the way. As running backs coach Terry Fergus '72 affirmed afterwards, Waldron has a high ceiling.
Wildcats fans received their first look at transfer quarterback Jaxson French. The highly touted signalcaller started as a freshman at Padua last year, and did quite well. French has plenty of potential, with a nice arm and speedy legs. Pressure forced French out of the pocket on a few occasions, preventing him from throwing a couple of times. But French did scramble once, gaining about 20 yards on an impromptu run. French will need some time to learn the playbook, but he'll be a deadly weapon in time.
Fellow sophomore Steven Bodamer also saw time at quarterback. Last year's starter on the freshmen team, Bodamer completed a couple of short throws across the middle. Joe Pfaff, Nick Lamirand, and others will be important receiving threats.
Bodamer also played defense, seeing time at defensive back. A speedy young athlete, look for Bodamer to see some time on defense this season.
Just like the varsity defensive line, the JV unit impressed. The sophomores have some big bodies who can plug holes and pressure opposing offenses.
The teams finished the day with a red-zone segment. Each team received two drives from the 20-yard line. The Wildcats' first drive stalled early, leading to a field goal. Solon managed a touchdown on its first attempt.
The Wildcats' offense hummed on the second drive. Hanna found Sam Daugstrup for a 5-yard pass past the markers on a big third down play. Crosby then beared down for a tough run before Welcsh powered it in for six. During the season, expect Michael McNamara to see some red zone carries, too.
A significant takeaway from the day is that Daugstrup is fully recovered from last season's injury. The senior displayed his nice hands on a couple of catches before cut upfield for nice gains. Daugstrup will play a large role for the Wildcats this season.
On the final drive of the day, the Comets scored on a nice play. The ending was not perfect, but at the end of the day, the Wildcats were happy with how it went.
Most importantly, the Wildcats did not sustain any big injuries. Schwitzgebel, Mike Simcak, Erik Daugenti, and Dominic Devengencie all sat for precautionary reasons, but will be back soon.
Moving forward, the Wildcats will look to stay healthy and get ready for a grueling schedule ahead this year.
"We have a few more doubles left, but we start school so early, we have to take advantage of these doubles, and make sure everyone is ready to go to school," Kyle said. "We'll probably do a scrimmage with ourselves next Saturday. Then we'll have Canton McKinley on Thursday [August 22]. Both teams talked about it a while ago. We have to travel a long way for our first game, so our Friday won't be much of a Friday. So if you have the scrimmage on Thursday, you have Friday and Saturday to prepare for the first game."