JOLIET—With four burly starters returning to the offensive line this season, Joliet Catholic could give new meaning to “time of possession.’’
The punishing presence of seniors Tyler Witt, Ze’Veyon Furcron, Ricky Fleming and Ethan Emerson will make it difficult for opponents to get the football back.
The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Witt at left tackle and the 6-1, 310-pound Furcron at left guard are expected to be the leaders up front as the Hilltoppers prepare for the regular season and beyond.
“We all know what varsity level brings and we know what to expect,’’ Furcron said. “That gives us an advantage over other teams. We’re all seniors, so we have that upper hand.’’
“It’s a really good feeling knowing that we have playing experience together,’’ Witt said. “It’s helped us bond because over the summer we’re at the gym together, lifting. Then out here at practice, it just clicks. We’re ready to go and we’re locked in.
“We’re confident there is no other team that should be able to stop us. We could go out every game and move people off the ball.’’
The duo will be joined by Emerson (6-5, 245) and Fleming (6-0, 275) on the line of scrimmage. Starting the season with imposing experience up front is more than comforting for coach Dan Sharp.
“Having those guys back, having most of your line back, that’s pretty good,’’ Sharp said with a smile.
Returning behind the sizable line are quarterback Cade Earl and wingbacks Michael Johnson and Harry Davis, who’s also a threat as a receiver.
Other contributors on offense will be tight ends Jake Kinsella and Colin O’Brien and fullbacks Josh Parenti and Michael Butler.
“Offensively, we only have a few holes to fill,’’ Sharp said.
Witt and Furcron will see doubly duty on the defensive line this season, which opens Friday on the road against Providence, the defending Class 7A champion.
The Hilltoppers have five returnees on defense. There’s linebacker Brad Krisch (6-1, 225), a three-year starter; tackle Kenny Aguirre (6-3, 280); end Zach Lukasik (6-2, 225), who’s also the team’s kicker, and Luke Phelan and Bill Rotnicki in the secondary.
Also expected to be factors on defense are linebackers Jordan Bates and Keaton Coleman and end Luke Mander.
“I think we’re pretty solid in our first unit,’’ Sharp said. “Depth is always an issue. I think it is in today’s game everywhere. You don’t have the number of kids you maybe had 10 to 15 years ago.’’
JCA finished 8-3 last year, including a 5A playoff win over St. Laurence and a second-round loss to Montini. The two regular-season defeats came against eventual state champs—Providence and 6A titlist Nazareth.
“We lost to some very good football teams,’’ Sharp said. “Tough loss to Providence. We lost in the last seconds on a blocked field goal to Nazareth.
“Our young guys grew up a lot. I think that experience of playing in big games, the experience of having 11 games last season, has really helped these young kids. They come in with a little more confidence.’’
After the home opener Sept. 4 against Wheaton North, the Hilltoppers start their East Suburban Catholic Conference season Sept. 11 at home against Carmel of Mundelein.
St. Viator, Marian Central and Marian Catholic are on the schedule before a rematch with defending ESCC champ Nazareth Oct. 9 at Memorial Stadium. The Roadrunners return receiver Julian Love, the most valuable player in the conference last year.
“There’s five or six teams that could end up winning the conference this year,’’ Sharp said. “It’s one of those years where it’s a pick-'em.
“We’re very optimistic. I think we could have a pretty special club this year.’’
HILLTOPPERS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Dan Sharp
2014 record: 8-3, 6-1 in East Suburban Catholic
Classification enrollment: 1,146 (probable class 5A)
Offensive coordinator: Dan Sharp
Defensive coordinator: Jake Jaworski
Returning offensive starters: QB Cade Earl, RB Michael Johnson, RB Harry Davis, OT Tyler Witt, OT Ethan Emerson, OG Ze’Veyon Furcron, C Ricky Fleming
Returning defensive starters: DL Kenny Aguirre, DL Zach Lukasik, LB Brad Krisch, DB Luke Phelan, DB Bill Rotnicki
August: 28 – at Providence, 7:30 p.m.
September: 4 – Wheaton North, 7:30 p.m.; 11 – Carmel, 7:30 p.m.; 18 – at St. Viator, 7:30 p.m.; 25 – Marian Central, 7:30 p.m.
October: 2 – at Marian Catholic, 7:30 p.m.; 9 – Nazareth, 7:30 p.m.; 16 – at Benet, 7:30 p.m.; 23 – Marist, 7:30 p.m.