Last year's season of Covid put most teams in an early hole, but few squads managed to dig themselves out of it like Mater Dei. This season, the Wildcats will look to show their claws early.
"We were way behind the 8-ball," Mater Dei head coach Mike Goebel says.
"You never saw a guy wanting to lay down," Mater Dei senior defensive end Nicholas Boots .
"Just the perseverance throughout the season," says Mater Dei senior wide receiver Eli McDurmon.
As Mater Dei head coach Mike Goebel begins his silver anniversary season with the Wildcats, it's hard not to look back and admire what might have been one of his best coaching job. Waylayed by COVID protocols, his young squad got off to the rockiest of starts. But after a 1-and-4 stumble out of the gates, Goebel and company reeled off eight straight wins to reach the 2-A Semi-states.
"Even when things weren't going well, that team was gelled," says Goebel. "They were together. They were great to coach and it was a lot of fun."
Now a year older and wiser, this Wildcats quad is looking to come out firing on all pistons in 2021.
"It feels amazing, you know," says Mater Dei senior defensive lineman James Rash. "Just very excited for this year. Definitely a lot better."
"Looking forward to this season," says McDurmon. "Good class. Ready to compete and have some fun."
"We're further a long, like everyone else, than last year," says Goebel, "because we're on the field and it's July. Last year, we didn't know if we'd be on the field at all. A lot of kids did get some varsity experience. So, we feel pretty good about that. Our seniors have done a good job, so far, leading."
And senior leadership will be the key. There's experience in the backfield, as well as a solid offensive line, seasoned with veterans and spiced with youth. However junior starting quarterback Mason Wunderlich, who threw for more than 21-hundred yards and 20 touchdowns, has lost most of his receiving corps from a year ago.
"We do have two good running backs," says Goebel. "Our leading rusher last year was Joey Pierre and Bryce Humphrey. He's an athlete. He can play receiver or running back. Mason's got a year under his belt. He threw for over two thousand last year. We do have to replace, with the exception of Eli McDurmon, the entire receiving corps, that did an exceptional job last year, There's great competition for that."
"We've just kind of been focusing on developing the younger guys," says McDurmon. "Getting them better for this year. Trying to put together a good receiving corps for our quarterback."
"I love watching our skill guys," says Boots. "When I'm doing a drill with the offensive line, I look over and see them running hard and they don't give up. They push each other . If someone's down, pick each other up."
On the defensive side of the ball, six starters are back from a team that dominate the competition, even when the offense struggled. This season, led by senior lineman Nicholas Boots, the Wildcats expect to turn up the heat on opposing offenses.
"We return some of our defensive back people," says Goebel. "We've got some youngsters in there as well. Our defensive line, anchored by Boots and two-time all-stater James Ralph. Ty Marting is back, our second leading tackler. Throw in the mix Pierce Walters, we're looking forward to a strong defense. But we've got a long way to go."
"We should be more aggressive," says Boots. "We need to get more power behind us. Start being more physical, because that's a huge aspect of the game. Get around our blockers and go and tackle guys."