WEST ROXBURY, Mass. -- The cupboard is never bare on Baker Street. But the hardware always seems to be out of reach.
For years, talent has been roaming the gridiron at Catholic Memorial School, going back 10 years ago to the days of head coach Dennis Golden and former Boston College running back L.V. Whitworth. But it's been a while since the Knights have grabbed at least a piece of the Catholic Conference title, and even longer since their last postseason appearance (1978, a 13-8 win over Chelmsford in the Division II Super Bowl).
This year, the stage is no different. The Knights feature four senior captains committed to BCS conference schools in quarterback A.J. Doyle (NC State), linebacker Camren Williams (Penn State), athlete Armani Reeves (Penn State) and defensive back Donovan Henry (Boston College); but just two Catholic Conference wins in two seasons to show for it, going 10-10 overall during that same stretch.
Last season, the Knights started off 4-1 (and were a last-second Longmeadow field goal from 5-0) before dropping their final four contests, allowing an average of 31 points per game over that span.
"I think because we haven't won the Catholic Conference in God knows how long, we're keeping [ourselves] level-headed," Reeves said. "I know me, Cam, A.J. and Dunny [Henry] get all the exposure, but it's all a team sport. And we can't win it by ourselves. So, if we keep the team in it, make sure they're working their butts off in practice, work hard every game, we'll be fine.
"I think it's mostly getting everyone to focus on their technique, making sure they know it's a team sport. We all need to do it together."
It's enough that the amicable Reeves, usually an articulate and polite interview, says he hasn't been returning as many phone calls from the scouting services with their routine check-ins.
"I don't really wanna say I'm trying to make everything about me," he said. "Because that's not what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to make it about the team. So, all these guys are calling me and everything, and they'll be alright for now. I'll call them every once in a while, tell them how the game went. But for now, it's me and my team, and the focus is on winning this championship."
Unlike fellow Catholic Conference powers BC High, St. John's Prep and Xaverian -- schools known to cycle as many as four-dozen players in their two-deep rotation -- the Knights lack depth. So Reeves, one of New England's most elusive threats with legitimate 4.4 burners, figures to shoulder a good chunk of that burden.
Head coach Alex Campea revealed as much last month when Reeves announced his decision to commit to Penn State, telling ESPNBoston.com at the time, "I'm going to play him in every conceivable fashion that we can get him on the field and help CM win some football games."
The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder is predicted to push for playing time early in his career in Happy Valley, and for the most part the hype is justified. He was named to ESPNBoston's inaugural MIAA All-State Team a year ago, racking up more than 1,200 all-purpose yards and scoring 16 times in four different ways -- rushing, receiving, returning punts and kicks.
Doyle showed much-improved footwork to accompany his accurate arm, while Williams has shown a cerebral ability with his improved physique at middle linebacker. But if the Knights are going to survive the late-season buzzsaw this time around -- their final four games are against No. 12 St. John's Prep, No. 5 Brockton, No. 7 Xaverian and No. 3 BC High -- they are going to have to not only find a way to finish drives, but make a few stops.
Run defense was the Achilles heel last season. The Knights allowed 13 rushing touchdowns in that four-game season-ending skid, and in each game the opponent's feature back accumulated over 150 yards on the ground -- most notably, BC High's Preston Cooper went off for 228 on Thanksgiving.
Size has never been an issue, and they'll be big up front once again between seniors Tyler Loring (6-4, 270 lbs), Jon Schneider (6-4, 250 lbs) and Mike Lyons (6-1, 260 lbs). Those same guys will be counted on in the running game, too, making holes for Reeves. Junior Peter Ngobidi, perhaps the Knights' next breakout star, figures to be a dangerous pass-rushing threat at defensive end, standing 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds.
And then maybe, just maybe, the pressure will subside.
CATHOLIC MEMORIAL AT A GLANCE
Coach: Alex Campea (7th year, 79-61)
Last year: 5-5
Key Returnees: A.J. Doyle, Sr. QB, 6-3, 225 lbs; Armani Reeves, Sr. ATH/DB, 5-10, 180 lbs; Camren Williams, Sr. LB, 6-1, 210 lbs; Donovan Henry, Sr. RB/DB; Tyler Loring, Sr. OL/DL, 6-4, 270 lbs; Peter Ngobidi, Jr. RB/DE, 6-2, 215 lbs; Jon Schneider, Sr. OL/DL, 6-4, 250 lbs; Mike Lyons, Sr. OL/DL, 6-1, 260 lbs; Josh Charles, Sr. WR/DB, 6-1, 175 lbs; Kevin Bletzer, Soph. LB, 5-11, 180 lbs; Eddie Murray, Sr. TE/DE, 6-1, 190 lbs; Garrett Ewanouski, Sr. LB, 5-10, 180 lbs; William Earl, Sr. RB/DB, 5-6, 170 lbs
Strengths: Speed, skill positions, experience
Weaknesses: Line, kicking game.
Outlook: After building considerable hype in the past two preseasons, 2011 is make or break for the Knights. Skill positions have never been an issue for the Knights -- instead, it's the run defense that has been its Achilles heel. More specifically, the Knights allowed 13 rushing touchdowns over their four-game losing skid to end the season, and in each game the opponent's feature back went off for 15 yards or more. Loring, a Norton native who could be the fifth D1 commit for CM, figures to be the foundation for improvement. "I think the line will be fine," head coach Alex Campea said. "I think we have some players there, they just need to be consistent." The Knights ooze athleticism in the secondary between Reeves, Henry and Josh Charles, and Williams has shown improved physique and leadership skills as middle linebacker. Some are predicting a breakout year for Ngobidi, who showed signs of such late last season amid the skid. Doyle, an NC State commit, is live in the pocket, and showed improved footwork in Saturday's scrimmage with No. 2 Duxbury. Overall, this is a team that appears to have learned its lesson from last season's collapse, but will that be enough to knock off BC High, Xaverian and St. John's Prep?