LAWRENCE, Mass. -- In years prior, No. 22 Central Catholic found itself the victim of the critical turnover -- the fumble with a goal-to-go, a costly interception to swing momentum. That translated to a 5-6 record in both 2007 and ’08.
In 2009, things just seemed to come around.
“I’ve found there’s a very fine line between 5-6 and 8-3,” Raiders head coach Chuck Adamopoulos said. “Last year, it was a group that just made plays. We had more than a couple times we made a play and came up with a big turnover at a big time in the game.
“In those years before, when we went 5-6, quite frankly, we weren’t the team that was doing that.”
A collection of tiny moments, small actions stitched together form the fabric of a season. And the Raiders were finally able to take hold of those last year. Such as when Cam Walsh’s clutch field goal lifted the then 0-1 Raiders to a dramatic 15-14 win over St. John’s Prep in Week 2. From there, Central Catholic ran off a string of six straight victories, putting them in contention for the Merrimack Valley Conference title.
Even after two straight losses (in a squeaker to Methuen and a drubbing administered by Billerica) to dash their MVC hopes, the Raiders rallied to snap a three-year skid against rival Andover on Thanksgiving morning.
It’s brought a sense of optimism.
“I’d like for us to finish with a winning record, obviously, first of all,” said senior running back and linebacker Trae Musumarra. “But I’d like to think that we can win it all. I’m feeling good about this season, real good. We’re young, but I think we’re going to make our mark.”
If the Raiders are to do so, Musumarra will have to be a big contributor to the cause.
“He’s explosive,” Adamopoulos said, “he’s a good player and we need him to have a big season for us to do well as a team.”
It’s a heavy weight to bear for the 6-foot, 190-pounder.
Musumarra, who has been clocked running a 4.5 in the 40, tallied six touchdowns on offense while collecting seven sacks playing as an outside linebacker last year. But there have been plenty of changes. While the Raiders will continue with their spread attack, Adamopoulos is going to a 4-3 instead of their customary 3-4 because of their losses at linebacker.
“I think we’ve had more learning to do this year because we’re moving to a 4-3,” Musumarra said. “Now, it’s our job to pick up the leadership and make sure the younger players are getting it. With a lot of younger kids in there, there’s a lot of learning to do.”
Yet, for all the formations to remember and coverage schemes to study, Central Catholic’s success will once again hinge on performance — making the big play in the biggest moments.
Just like Walsh’s kick against Prep last year.
“Confidence is really what you need to kick the ball well,” said the senior captain.
“It’s more of a mind game.”
The Raiders will have that covered.
CENTRAL CATHOLIC AT A GLANCE
2009 record: 8-3 ( Merrimack Valley)
Coach: Chuck Adamopoulos (14th year, 90-50)
Players to watch: Trae Musumarra, Sr., RB/LB, 6-0, 190 lbs.; Jaycob Morales, Sr., TE/LB, 6-0, 180 lbs.; Ryan Sullivan, Sr., WR/DB, 5-10, 150 lbs.; Cam Walsh, Sr., RB/DB/K, 5-10, 175 lbs.; Brendan Hopkinson, Sr., OL/DL, 6-1, 240 lbs.; Henry Rodriguez, Jr., WR/DB, 5-11, 175 lbs.
Strengths: Depth at wide receiver and secondary, team speed.
Weaknesses: Depth and experience at linebacker, experience on offensive and defensive lines.
Outlook: The biggest transition the Raiders will face will be on defense with Adamopoulos’ move from a 3-4 to a 4-3. The linebacker corps is also in flux, but will be anchored by strong-side linebacker Jaycob Morales. The secondary is the strength of the group with Zach Bardwell and Walsh holding down the corner spots. On offense, Adamopoulos’ outlook is almost giddy with excitement. “This is probably about as talented a group of receivers we’ve had in a very long time.” There are plenty of weapons between Xavier Peralta, Henry Rodriguez and Ryan Sullivan. The question is: Who will throw them the ball? Right now, it’s a two-man race between Bardwell and junior Matt McDermott. The line is a little lacking in the experience department, but senior center Brendan Hopkinson provides stability. At the tackles, juniors Ryan Barry and Christian Nunez will give the Raiders capable bookends for the next couple years.