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Football expectations high for experienced Salesianum squad

Salesianum, led by coach Bill DiNardo (gray shirt), opens defense of its state championship Sept. 5 at Caesar Rodney.
Salesianum, led by coach Bill DiNardo (gray shirt), opens defense of its state championship Sept. 5 at Caesar Rodney.Mike Lang

WILMINGTON – One of the first things that comes to mind when discussing the 2014 Salesianum football team is the 2013 squad, the one that won the Division I state championship with a roster loaded with talented seniors. But to overlook the players who are coming back for the Sals would be a mistake.

Coach Bill DiNardo knows no one is feeling sorry for Salesianum, and he would never expect that. There are plenty of players ready to fill the void left by last year’s graduates.

“We have a real good nucleus coming back,” DiNardo said after a recent practice. “There’s no doubt we lost some very, very good football players. We lost some great kids. But that’s part of high school football. At the high school level, you’re going to have kids for two, maybe three years, then you’ve gotta move on.

“We return good numbers. We return six kids that have really seen a lot of starting action on offense. We return eight kids that have started on defense. So I feel real confident that we have an experienced group of kids.”

On offense, opponents can expect a variety of different looks. Junior Zach Jerome, a fullback, said the team will continue with its I formation and slot, “but we’re also starting to do a lot of the pistol stuff, too, trying to spread out our offense a little bit.”

The pistol changed the complexity of the offense last year, DiNardo said, and the coaches will continue to develop it.

The person at the trigger of that pistol, the starting quarterback, will be Garrett Cannon, a junior who has two years of varsity experience. DiNardo is confident that Cannon can handle the job.

“He has shown great growth. He’s a good leader and a good competitor. So we think he’s going to step in and be a very good varsity quarterback for us,” he said.

Jerome will be one of the faces in the backfield behind Cannon, joined by fellow fullback Michael Sanzone and running backs Colby Reeder and Evander Blue.

But the Sals will not live by the ground game alone.

“We like to be balanced. I like to throw the ball – we’ve got a nice quarterback. We have some real nice receivers. We’ve done some good things in the preseason,” DiNardo said.

Outside linebacker Connor Freeborn, a senior, said the team will employ its traditional 3-4 defense again.

Freeborn said the talent on the squad this year is impressive. “We’ve got some young guys stepping in to fill the roles of the seniors that left last year. We have a lot of pressure on our back, and we understand that, so we trained even harder to prepare for the season.”

Salesianum again faces a strenuous schedule that includes just four home games (with one “road” game at Baynard Stadium) and a three-game stretch against out-of-state opponents. The one non-Delaware team that will visit Baynard Stadium is Poly Prep Country Day from Brooklyn, N.Y., which handed the Sals their only loss last year. Jerome has that date, Oct. 4, circled on the calendar.

“That should be a really good game. That’s going to be a big one for us,” he said. “I think they have a couple returning starters that were key players for them last year.”

DiNardo impresses upon his team the importance of not looking past any opponent. With the strength of schedule – Salesianum plays four of the other five teams to make the state Division I playoffs – and the target on their back, the Sals need to stay focused.

“It will sound cocky, but it’s not meant to be cocky. These kids are used to the fact that everything they do, they are under a microscope. These kids understand that everyone is very excited to play us. We’re going to see everybody’s A game.

“Our kids have been programmed that they have to bring their A game, that mediocre and average are not good enough. We are not good enough to beat anybody on our schedule with an average game. We have to play great every week.”

Schedule

Sept. 5: at Caesar Rodney, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 13: vs. William Penn, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20: vs. Concord, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 26: at Glen Mills (Pa.), 7 p.m.

Oct. 4: vs. Poly Prep Country Day (N.Y.), 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 10: at Martin Luther King (Pa.), Benjamin Johnson Memorial Stadium, 6 p.m.

Oct. 17: vs. St. Mark’s, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 24: at Delaware Military Academy, Baynard Stadium, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 1: at Delcastle, 1 p.m.

Nov. 7: at Middletown, 7:30 p.m.

Home games are at Baynard Stadium.