Catholic football coach Steve Matthews has seen this script before.
In 2012, he was offensive coordinator at Siegel, preparing for a Class 6A semifinal showdown against Maryville.
After reviewing film of the Rebels, Matthews was convinced there was no way a mostly blue-collar bunch from Maryville could play with a talent-laden Stars team that included future Middle Tennessee State quarterback Brent Stockstill.
“I thought we’d beat these guys by 35 points,” said Matthews with a chuckle.
“Of course, we lost 47-43 in a shootout. One of the things that surprised me was how physical Maryville was. You really couldn’t see it on film. That’s one of the things we’re trying to warn our players about.”
Matthews won’t make any miscalculations about the Rebels on Friday (7:30 p.m. kickoff) when the Irish travel to Maryville in both teams’ season opener.
The game is a state headliner, with the Rebels expected to contend for yet another championship under first-year coach Derek Hunt. He replaces George Quarles, who won 11 state titles in 18 years before resigning after the 2016 season to become assistant head coach at Furman.
Catholic, which is once again loaded with Power 5 recruits, is one of the favorites as it moves up to Class 5A.
On paper, at least, it would be easy to break down the teams’ personnel and give the Irish an advantage in talent over the Rebels.
Matthews isn’t taking the bait this time.
“This year, you watch them (Maryville) and they don’t have guys that just fly off the screen at you,” he offered, “but every one of them is a very solid football player.”
The talent pipeline is wide open at Catholic.
Eight of the 16 seniors off last year’s team are now playing college football.
The level of talent for the 2017 team is comparable, according to Matthews.
“As far as Power 5 prospects, I’d say we’ve got at least four,” he said. “After that, we’ve got another four or five (close behind).”
Senior lineman Cade Mays, a Tennessee commit and the nation’s second-ranked offensive tackle according to 247Sports, is Catholic’s most high-profile player.
In the offseason, Catholic added two more outstanding prospects as senior wide receiver/safety DaShon Bussell transferred from Indiana. Junior defensive back/running back Raynoch Thompson Jr., the son of former UT All-American linebacker Raynoch Thompson, moved in from Kentucky.
Bussell, who revealed Tuesday that he has narrowed his list of colleges down to Iowa and Tennessee, said he was blown away by the talent level at Catholic.
“When I first got here it was a big transition,” Bussell said. “There were a lot of players on my level or a higher level than me.”
Bussell gives the Irish yet another option.
“DaShon is absolutely electric with the ball in his hands,” Matthews said. “He has the chance to be special.”
Thompson cautioned it will take more than overwhelming talent to beat Maryville Friday.
“Maryville is a really good team,” Thompson said. “They have great athletes, but so do we.”
New starter at QB
While Maryville returns UAB commit Dylan Hopkins at quarterback, Catholic will feature first-year starter Jack Sompayrac.
He has big shoes to fill.
Chase Cunningham threw for 33 touchdowns and only three interceptions for the Irish last season.
Matthews said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Sompayrac gives Catholic a new look at quarterback.
“Jack gives us the ability to run at quarterback. That’s something we were able to do with Stockstill, but we really haven’t had that here at Catholic. We have a guy who can throw it and run it. I think that will open some things up for us.”
Mike Blackerby is a freelance contributor
As published by Knox News Sentinel http://www.knoxnews.com/story/sports/high-school/2017/08/17/catholic-maryville-headlines-knoxville-areas-best-week-1-high-school-football/575654001/