The thought of playing the De La Salle Cavaliers, the top-ranked team in Class 3A, has St. Charles Catholic coach Frank Monica thinking back to his younger days.
“They remind me of the 1960s when I played for Joe Keller at Reserve High School. They line up and sometimes they use seven offensive linemen and they will run right at you. They will dare you just to do anything else,” Monica said.
The Cavaliers (7-0 overall, 3-0 in District 10-3A) are a bit of a throwback to the days of Keller’s coaching days with an offense featuring elements of the old Wing-T and Single-Wing.
“It will not be a wide-open, sexy game. It will be trench warfare. That’s what it will end up being. It will be won in the trenches one way or the other,” Monica predicted.
One big difference from Keller’s coaching days is the size of the current players. Julien Gums, De La Salle’s bullish quarterback, likely is bigger than any player Keller had on his offensive line during Monica’s playing days.
So you can just imagine the size of the Cavaliers’ offensive line.
“When I talk about big, I’m not talking 250; I’m talking about 300-pound big,” Monica said.
The Cavaliers are known for playing two tight ends at times.
“When they put those seven offensive linemen together, they are outside the hash marks. That’s how wide they are,” said Monica, with a bit of hyperbole.
The biggest of the linemen – 6-foot-3, 335-pound John Martin – is only a freshman.
When the sixth-ranked Comets (7-1 overall, 3-0 in district) host De La Salle on Friday in a 10-3A showdown, the task will be to try and contain the likes of Gums and running back Kendall Collins behind the Cavaliers’ massive offensive line.
“Their quarterback, you can’t tackle him,” Monica said of Gums. “Their running back (Collins), you can’t tackle him.”
Fullback Kendall Baker gets a few carries but the Cavaliers also are capable of throwing the football with Gums and the likes of receiver B.J. Randle, according to Monica.
“They are good enough to throw the ball if you get the safeties out of position. They are good enough to hit you with the big pass play. You are so inclined to get more people in the box, it’s really a big, big concern if they can keep the ball away from (the Comets’) offense and limit your snaps,” the St. Charles coach said.
The De La Salle defense is as stout as the offense is methodical, so the Cavaliers don’t need to get much help from opponents. Yet, they got plenty of help a week ago when their special teams blocked three punts for touchdowns and had a long kickoff return to set up a short score in a 63-7 demolition of St. James.
“Their punt return game alone was worth four touchdowns,” said Monica.
Defensively, De La Salle is based out of an even front but is capable of playing whatever it wants, according to Monica.
“They are based out of a 4-3 or 4-2. They will vary that a little bit. They have shown in long-yardage situations that they will run a three-man line. They will play both zone and man,” Monica said.
Anchoring a big defensive front is Jamiran James, a Tulane commitment.
“He’s a real active player. He has an excellent swim move. He will be hard to handle up front,” said Monica.
De La Salle’s linebacker corps consists of Ashton Robinson, Robert Lestrick and Royce Richardson.
“Their linebackers are real active. They run to the ball. They are very athletic. They are always on their feet and do a real good job with technique. They squeeze extremely well. When the lineman goes down, they squeeze it and cut off all the gaps,” explained Monica.
The leader in the secondary is Lance Robinson, a Kansas State commitment. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior blocked all three punts last week against St. James. He returned his final block for a touchdown.
“You have to be aware of him. He’s really, really special. He makes a lot of tackles. He’s fast and very physical. He’s thick and an excellent open-field tackler,” Monica said of Robinson.
The Comets’ formula for success has long been to play ball-control and eat up the clock to allow opponents as few possessions as possible. De La Salle does the same thing, but with a twist.
“They play keep-away. They play keep-away but they are capable of more explosive plays than we are. Whoever touches the ball for them is an explosive player. We just try to keep the thing moving. It’s more like we are the tortoise and they are the rabbit,” said Monica.