Northwest Catholic hasn’t been a real player in the CCC and the statewide scene for a few years now. Their last winning season was a playoff run in 2014.
Last year NWC went 4-6 under new coach and alumnus Michael Lenz. Now in his second year, Lenz believes he has a squad that will compete with the Bloomfields and Berlins of CCC Division III.
Returning seven starters on each side of the ball, this year’s team appears ready to take the next step.
“Experience will be our biggest strength,” Lenz said. “We are returning seven guys on both sides of the ball who will be entering year two of a new coaching staff and they all better understand the offensive and defensive terminology.
“The best thing is that the players have high expectations for themselves and the program.”
Among those back for the Lions is quarterback Connor Rich, an All-CCC pick who threw for over 500 yards and ran another 500 yards last season, tossing seven touchdowns and running for seven more.
Lenz says Rich is a “dual-threat with a strong arm and escapability,” and is looking to him to improve an offense that scored just 159 points last year.
“We have high expectations for Connor this year,” Lenz said. “He has improved both mentally and physically at the quarterback position.”
Running back Isaac Riley also returns after rushing for 731 yards and six touchdowns last season and will be the team’s bell cow.
“A big, strong running back who slimmed down in the offseason to get even faster,” Lenz said of Riley. “We expect Isaac to carry the load and help set the tone on offense.”
Lenz also said he’s moved senior Dominic Mealha from receiver to tailback. “He’ll be a smaller, quicker change-of-pace running back,” the coach said.
Skye Dolce and Josh Sedoti are back at tight end and wide receiver, respectively, giving Rich well-known and reliable targets. Dolce led NWC with 14 catches for 219 yards last year.
“We expect both player to make a lot of catches and get open for Connor Rich,” Lenz said, adding that Shaun MacNamara, Brendan Keefrider and Logan Green will also be counted on in the pass game.
The Lions return three starters on the offensive like to help the cause, Colby Lancaster, Sam Stiles and Evan Thompson. “Solid,” Lenz said of his front lines. “But we’re really looking for young guys to step up,” he said, specifically juniors Caiden Stewart and Harry Waterbury and senior Nick Macari.
NWC only allowed 171 points a year ago and most of the defense returns intact.
The Lions return four of their top five tacklers from a season ago, including Dolce, the kingpin of the defense at inside linebacker and Riley at defensive end. Riley led NWC with 9 1/2 sacks last year and also had two interceptions. Thompson also returns at defensive end after registering six sacks as a junior.
Rich, who made 59 tackles last year at outside linebacker, returns after leading NWC with three interceptions. Sedoti (1 INT, 25 tackles) returns to lead the secondary at safety.
The Lions may be returning a plethora of players, but depth remains an issue for the smallest school in the CCC. With many players going both ways, the team will need to avoid injuries if it hopes to move above .500.
Among the challenges on the schedule are road games at Class M runner-up Berlin and defending Class S champion Bloomfield. The Lions also play Weston and Notre Dame-Fairfield out of the SWC as part of their non-conference Scheduling Alliance games.
“We expect to be in the mix with the top teams and compete in every game,” Lenz said.