With less than two weeks before opening kickoff the Central Catholic Raiders who like a car in need of a new motor.
On the outside the Raiders are chock full of talented skill players, led by senior D'Andre Drummond-Mayrie and a slew of juniors, that are multi-faceted weapons. However; check under the hood and there's an offensive line with no returning starters and a defensive front seven decimated by graduation.
The parts to build a hot rod are there, and Central coach Chuck Adamopoulos says that progress is happening.
“Our whole season is going to based about how [the line] develop,” Adamopoulos said. “This is the first time I can remember us not having a returning starter on the offensive line. It's a challenge and they're working hard, but it's a work in progress. Right from day one, little things that I need to go over and over again right now I didn't have to do last year. They're getting after it; they're working hard.”
Seniors Joe Brown and Cam Manning, along with junior Markus Edmunds, will be tasked with a leading a defense that lost the likes of Ryan Doherty, Ryan Barry, and Sean Kirchner to graduation and Northeast-10 schools. A scrimmage schedule that includes meetings with Xaverian, Reading, and Mansfield give the line valuable preseason experience against quality competition.
While the trenches are being rebuilt Adamopoulos will have to rely on his talented secondary to carry the defense early. Drummond-Mayrie -- all 6-foot, 205 pounds of him -- was moved from cornerback to safety to get him closer to the action. Drummond-Mayrie will be paired with junior Mike Balsamo. Balsamo is entering his third year as a starting safety and will provide much-needed veteran experience on the field.
“One of the reasons we're moving him is because he wasn't involved because [opposing teams] were going to the opposite side of the field,” Adamopoulos said. “We can always move him back to corner if we need to. As a safety we think it'll prevent teams from totally staying on the other side of the field away from him.”
Offensively the Raiders will look to junior quarterback Mike Milano to improve on a solid sophomore year that saw him throw for 1,156 yards, 11 touchdowns, and pilot Central to nine wins.
“We were nervous before last season and [Mike] stepped up and keeps getting better and better everyday,” Drummond-Mayrie said. “He's become more of a leader too.”
“Mike is a key guy for us; typically the jump between sophomore and junior year for a quarterback is huge,” Adamopoulos said. “Mike throws the ball well, he runs; he's worked hard in the offseason. We expect big things out of him.”
A lot is expected out of Drummond-Mayrie this season. The Lawrence native has a half dozen offers to play safety at FCS schools and was named to most preseason all-star teams in the state. Drummond-Mayrie said that he's ready for the challenge on both sides of the ball and that his mind is in the present.
“I don't really talk about [college] much,” Drummond-Mayrie said. “I'm still here; I'm still a Central Catholic Raider. There is a little bit of pressure because you need to go out there and perform, but I've always had to perform in the years before. I'm kind of looking at it as another season without any of [the recruiting] happening.”
The X factor this season might be something the Raiders can't control: the schedule. Gone are the days of being being able to tinker during non-league games in September; the Raiders only play one non-league opponent all year and Adamopoulos said that he wished he had that time back.
“There's definitely a different mindset though,” Adamopoulos said. “Last year we knew our league schedule wasn't going to start until October. This year we have a fairly young team and I'd love if our league games didn't start until October because of that. I think it's more of a mindset. We've got to get better quick because of the system.”
CENTRAL CATHOLIC AT A GLANCE
Coach: Chuck Adamopoulos (17th season, 112-61 overall)
2012 season: 9-2
Returning starters: Eight (Three offensive; five defensive)
Key Returnees: D'Andre Drummond-Mayrie, Sr. RB/S; Cam Manning, Jr. OLB; Mike Balsamo, Jr. RB/S; Markus Edmunds, Jr. LB; Cody Demers, Sr. WR; Mike Milano, Jr. QB.
Outlook: As the line grows so goes the Raiders. With a breadth of experience at the offensive skill positions the Raiders will always be a threat on the outside to change the game on one play, but the line will need to grow up fast to give Milano, Drummond-Mayrie, Demers, and co. time. Defensively Manning and Edmunds will have to shoulder the load at linebacker while Brown will be tasked with leading a young line against the weekly assault of MVC offenses. The Raiders open against Lawrence, a team they outscored 98-12 over their last three meetings, and a rebuilding Haverhill team before playing St. John's Prep, Andover, and Lowell. If the line can develop quickly and the skill players play to their ability look for Central to be a thorn in the side of Division 1 North once the calendar flips to November.