Knoxville Catholic Irish

Things are looking up for the Knoxville Catholic Irish football program. They have one of the finest facilities in the area with their sparkling new athletics complex that includes a new weight room and fieldhouse with locker room. Year one at the new school saw the Irish welcome veteran Mark Pemberton as their new head coach. He guided Catholic to the second round of the playoffs and a 7-5 overall record.

Year two could be even better as the Irish grow accustomed to the new schemes of Coach Pemberton. "We could possibly contend for a State Championship if we can avoid injuries to key people," said the Catholic head coach. Pemberton believes in a conservative approach to football. "We try to control the clock with a solid running game and play great defense," said Pemberton. "We coach hard on special teams and try to be better than our opponent in the kicking game." Six starters return to man Catholic's Wing-bone offensive attack that features the option, which is a major departure from the wide open passing game the Irish used for previous seasons. "Our kids should have a much better understanding of our offense over last year," said Coach Pemberton. "We do need to improve our passing game, block better at the skill positions and cut down on costly turnovers out of our option." Catholic has the luxury of a returning starter at quarterback as senior Dack Ishii (6'2" 220) is back looking to lead the Irish offense deep into the playoffs. Ishii has the size to be a major threat running the football. Ishii is a dual threat as he rushed 73 times for 279 yards and completed 46 of 119 passes for another 767 yards, 7 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He must be adept at making the correct reads to get the football to the right person out of the option. The Irish focus on the running game led to an average of 234 yards per ballgame on the ground in 2002. Catholic has two solid running backs returning. Senior Austin Sheridan (5'9" 170) and junior Nick McFadden (5'9" 170) are smallish but lightning quick. Sheridan got the ball 70 times for 473 yards and also caught 6 aerials for another 114 yards while McFadden carried 96 times for 497 yards and made 11 receptions for 132 yards. Both of these guys are workhorses for Catholic. When the Irish do decide to take to the airwaves, Ishii will look for senior wide receiver Daniel Sheridan (6'1" 165) downfield. He has the speed to make the big play. In 2002, Daniel Sheridan caught 13 passes for 287 yards. The tight end should be junior Spencer Clancy (6'3" 210) who has good hands and is also a solid blocker. Freshman T.J. Franklin (6'3" 200) will also see action and is a future stud. Matt Hermanson should get opportunities to catch the football as well as he snared two passes a year ago. Only three of the five spots are solidified along the offensive line. The tackles are large. Senior strongmen Alex Smith (6'2" 255) and Jeremy Bentley (6'3" 260) are outstanding blockers. Senior Patrick Horton (6'3" 220) will be a rock at one of the guard spots. Those three give the Irish three stalwarts to build around to form the all important offensive line. Freshman Joey Natour (5'11" 200) hopes to win the starting spot at center in his first year. When the Irish get bogged down in enemy territory, they might turn to talented freshman placekicker Chris Senneker (5'7" 135). He has a strong leg and should develop into an outstanding kicker during his career. Catholic has work to do to match a nasty group of defenders from 2002 that allowed only 15 points per game. The secondary should be solid but there is a lack of experienced linebackers that could be a problem filling out the Irish's 50 defensive alignment. The front five are set as bookend tackles Smith and Bentley have the size to wreak havoc inside. Bentley jumped in on 37 tackles in 2002. The noseguard should be Horton who ripped into 13 runners and recorded a sack last season. The defensive ends should be senior Willie Lattimore (6'1" 190) and junior Joey Paynter (6'1" 190). Lattimore had 18 stops last season. Franklin will work his way into the rotation as Catholic should field an excellent D-line by mid season. There is only one linebacker returning but he is a potential 100 tackle man. Junior hitman Jeff Jolly (5'11" 200) has a nose for the football and arrives with harmful intentions. Jolly recorded only 18 stops last season but should see those numbers skyrocket. Natour has the size to be effective and may be forced into the fray as a freshman at linebacker. The defensive backfield features Ishii as an extra strong safety. Pity a poor receiver caught looking the wrong way when Ishii arrives on the scene of a catch. Senior Matt Hermanson (5'11" 170) and Austin Sheridan are capable in the secondary. Hermanson is the top returning tackler as he made 42 stops last season. Austin (23 tackles) and Daniel (25 tackles) are also capable run stoppers in the backfield. The Knoxville Catholic Irish have it all going in the right direction. If a few key holes can be filled before the opener, there is a solid nucleus of returning starters capable of taking the Irish to new heights in the postseason. The schedule is brutal as the Irish open against perennial power Gatlinburg-Pittman. Playoff regulars Father Ryan out of Nashville, Hampton and a rugged bunch out of Wartburg will be tough games. Then of course there is the task of arch rival and neigborhood bully Webb at the end of the schedule but Catholic has the talent to tangle with all comers in 2003! Pigskin Preview Prediction- 7-3 Playoff Contender- Yes

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