The St. Thomas Eagles are accustomed to being alone at the top in recent years, with three straight TAPPS Division I District championships. Head coach Rich McGuire and the Eagles have not dropped a district contest since 2018.
But remaining on top of the standings this season and making a deep playoff run will take a largely unproven group gelling quickly.
The Eagles are coming off a 7-3 campaign in 2020 that ended with a loss in the second round of the TAPPS Division I playoffs, and have a number of key contributors to replace if they wanted to keep the district streak going.
“We’ll be playing a bunch of juniors and seniors, but not many of them have played meaningful downs in varsity games. A lot of them were doing that for the first time (during Thursday’s scrimmage),” McGuire said. “A lot of it is just getting them comfortable – you’ve got to get them the confidence that ‘Ok, I can do this.’ Because they just haven’t.”
At the top of the list will be replacing quarterback Maddox Kopp, who amassed more than 6,700 total yards and 62 touchdowns in his St. Thomas career.
The battle will come down to junior Caleb Davis – who has thrown just nine career passes – and transfer Jake Wright, who completed better than 61 percent of his passes for 1,134 yards and 12 touchdowns at St. Mary’s-Colgan (Kansas) last season.
“They’re both good quarterbacks,” McGuire said. “I’d like to go into (the opener) having a guy, but we don’t know. We’ve just got to figure out whether one stands out.”
Whoever grabs hold of the job, however, will still have a few weapons familiar to Eagles’ fans. Sophomore running back Johann Cardenas returns as the Eagles’ leading rusher after accumulating 495 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground last year along with 201 receiving yards. In the slot will be Cameron Price, who tied for the team lead in receiving yards (794) while leading in touchdown catches (10) during the 2020 season.
“Cameron and Johann both have experience playing on Friday nights and doing well,” McGuire said. “Their strength makes them both really special. Solo tackles are rare on either one of them.”
Leading the way up front on the offensive line will be lone returner Wyatt Green.
“We feel like we’re going to be able to run the ball better than we have in the past, so I think we’ll do that more than people are used to," McGuire said. "But we’re still going to be spreading and throwing the ball around because we’ve got some skill at the receiver position.”
Defensively, this year’s unit might have some growing pains, as inside linebacker Teegan Spencer (60 tackles) stands out as St. Thomas’ lone returning starter. However, senior defensive lineman Charles Batterson – a backup in 2020 – brings some experience back.
Inside linebacker Jack Ward and sophomore corner Marques Kiatta were also two players McGuire highlighted to help breathe life into a defense that will be young from the jump, along Houston St. John’s transfer Tyler Langin.
“Pretty much everybody else is brand new,” he said.