Catoctin lost star quarterback Christian Michael to graduation but returns a pair of proven running backs, Carson Sickeri and Jacob Baker.
It’s tempting to think the Cougars might opt for a run-heavy offense instead of the multi-faceted attack that served them so well last season, when their ability to crank out big plays in the air and on the ground kept opposing defenses guessing.
But it sounds like Catoctin’s offense will be just as unpredictable this year.
“It all depends on how teams defend us,” Catoctin coach Doug Williams said. “We do have the ability to do both [passing and running], so we’ll see what happens.”
The passing attack returns receivers Travis Fields and Mason Clark, who ranked high on Frederick County’s receiving yards leaders list last year, although Clark is battling back after having ACL surgery.
The new starting quarterback is junior Ryan Orr, who showed promise during the preseason.
“He’s worked very hard in the offseason, and so far he’s been doing good,” Williams said of Orr. “You don’t know how kids do until they’re under fire. We had a scrimmage Saturday night [against North Hagerstown], and he was fine there.”
Orr spent most of last season on the JV team before getting a late-season call-up to serve as Michael’s backup.
“He is very similar to Christian Michael,” Fields said. “He can throw on the run, he can handle the situations and knows what to do and when to do it.”
“He had a really good 7-on-7 season,” senior wide receiver Eli Frei said. “I think we’ll be just fine this year, especially coming off Christian. I think he’ll be successful as well.”
Williams said the Cougars could employ the I-formation more often than last year.
A solid passing attack will open up opportunities for proven backfield weapons. Baker rushed for 691 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior last year, while Sickeri finished with 661 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore. The versatile Fields could also see carries.
Paving the way for those backs is an offensive line anchored by a pair of returning starters, senior center Tyler Hauk and senior tackle Jacob McIlvaine. Both are good athletes who excel in track and field, McIlvaine in the shot put and Hauk in the discus.
“We do have a lot of size. Our speed is pretty well-rounded,” said McIlvaine, a strong, 6-foot-3, 300-pounder. “We’ve got really fast guards, which is always helpful.”
McIlvaine and Hauk are also returning defensive tackles who, along with speedy nose guard Baker and ends Mason Shank and Conner Kock, will help bolster a defensive line that had a knack for breaking into opponents’ backfields last season.
Many of the familiar names returning on offense also return on defense, especially in the secondary.
Frei moved from strong safety to free safety, while Sickeri is the strong safety. Fields has excelled at cornerback (as well as a kicker), and he thought newcomer Bronson Snurr would also help the secondary.
Anthony Treganowan will bolster the linebacker corps.
“We have some experience, and we have some speed,” Williams said. “We think we’re physical. We feel good about our defense right now.”
The Cougars are coming off a 2018 season that saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in five years. They advanced to the Class 1A West region final, where they fell to Fort Hill.
After that taste of success, returners and newcomers hit the weight room hard and headed into preseason with a desire to get even better.
When asked about his goals, Hauk said, “Definitely make it farther than we did last year and self-improvement, get myself better to help the team.”