Cavs expecting their first winning season
Cuthbertson High’s football program has never had a winning season in the school’s brief five-year history, but that could change in 2014.
The Cavaliers have three skill players on offense with college scholarship offers, and the defense returns six starters from last year’s team that finished 4-8 overall and 2-3 in the Southern Carolina Conference.
Second-year coach David Johnson is excited about the ability of his team but admits there’s plenty of work to be done.
“We have the potential to do some good things, but we still have to go out and make it happen,” said Johnson. “We’re getting better day by day. As a whole I think we have a little bit of everything, and if we blend together pretty well that should lead to a productive season.”
The Cavaliers compete in a conference that saw five of its six teams qualify for the postseason a year ago.
Weddington and Sun Valley were co-champions of the league at 4-1, while Cuthbertson, Anson and Piedmont all tied for third with a 2-3 mark.
Weddington made it to the 3AA state quarterfinals, while Piedmont (3A) and Anson (3A) both advanced to the second round.
Johnson expects the conference to be competitive again.
“I think our conference is one of the tougher 3A conferences in the state,” said Johnson. “It’s going to be a grind week in and week out. I think whoever is standing at the end has a good chance to make a run in the playoffs.”
Cuthbertson opens the regular season at home against Parkwood on Friday.
The Cavs’ first SCC game is at Marvin Ridge on Oct. 10.
The Cavs got a big boost late in the summer when Austin Kendall announced he was transferring back to CHS.
A junior quarterback who recently committed to Tennessee, Kendall started for the Cavs as a freshman before making the move to Charlotte Christian for his sophomore season.
Kendall guided Christian to the NCISAA 3A state championship, passing for 1,668 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder has scholarship offers from N.C. State, Kentucky, Tennessee, Boston College, Clemson, Miami, Virginia, Wake Forest, West Virginia and Charlotte.
“The one thing I’ve noticed about Austin is the championship spirit and attitude he’s brought to our team,”said Johnson. “He led his team to a state championship last year, so he understands the grind of what it takes to get to play in late November and December. Our kids have noticed that, and it’s been good for the team.”
Kendall will have two standout wide receivers to throw to in senior BJ Muckelvene and sophomore JT Cauthen.
Muckelvene, who reports an offer from Wingate, had 51 catches for 689 yards and five touchdowns as a junior last season.
Cauthen had 18 catches for 213 and three touchdowns in just four varsity games a year ago. He already has scholarship offers from Clemson, North Carolina, N.C. State, Old Dominion and Charlotte.
“You have two different dynamic players with BJ and JT,” said Johnson. “BJ is a smaller skat receiver that runs fast and really gets in and out of breaks quickly. He’s the kind of kid that can take a hitch route 95 yards.
“JT is much bigger and more physical. He’s so strong for his age and he can really dominate one-on-one matchups with his physical attributes.”
Johnson also expects senior tight end Nick Karas and sophomore receiver Casey Stanford to be involved in the passing game.
The backfield features a pair of returning starters in seniors Cody Wilson and Alex Levister.
Wilson led the team with 399 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2013, while Levister ran for 283 yards.
Senior center Andrew Chairelli is the only returning starter on the offensive line. The rest of the group up front includes sophomore left tackle Erwin Juarez, senior left guard Kyle Taylor, junior right guard Connor Kelligrew and sophomore right tackle Alex Karas.
“Although Andrew is the only starter back, the rest of those guys started as a unit on the JV team and are used to playing with each other,” said Johnson. “We’ll be inexperienced and have some growing pains, but hopefully we’ll get all of that out of the way before conference starts.”
The defensive front returns three starters with plenty of varsity experience.
Karas and senior Connor Gerlitz are both back on the ends while junior Dyanta Caldwell returns at nose guard.
Karas had 47 tackles last season, including a team-high 10 sacks. Gerlits ranked fourth on the team with 91 total stops and Caldwell added 45 tackles.
“If I had to pick a side of the ball that would be our strength, it would be the defense,” said Johnson. “Really nine of our 11 starters either started or played significant minutes last season, so we’ve got some experienced guys that have been through the grind.”
The linebackers include a trio of seniors in Juwan Funderburk, Zach Carver and Jack Generoso. Funderburk and Carver are both returning starters.
Funderburk ranked third on the team with 99 tackles a year ago in addition to his two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Carver had 42 tackles in 2013.
“Juwan is a guy that’s extremely aggressive, physical and fast to the ball,” said Johnson. “He has a high football IQ, too. He’s always in the right spot and makes a lot of plays, and is really somebody we lean on to carry the load at that linebacking spot.”
Senior cornerback Malik McCray is the lone returner in the secondary.
McCray posted 38 tackles and ranked second on the team with three interceptions last season.
Senior Byron Gaymon is expected to man the other corner position, while juniors Matthew Panko and Peter Ausiello will patrol the safety spots.
“Our two corners are pretty athletic and fast,” said Johnson. “If BJ (Muckelvene) is the fastest kid on the team, Malik and Byron are two and three. We’ve got two safeties that play downhill and are not afraid to stick their nose into the box and make a tackle.”