The Bishop Ireton Cardinals lost six games last season, four of which were decided by a touchdown or less. Naturally, the name of the game this year is finishing leaving nothing on the field, says head coach Tony Verducci.
It will take a higher powered offense than last years 4-6 squad, and thats OK, because the Cardinals lost just five seniors to graduation. Most of last years roster has returned to Cambridge Road older, bigger and better.
That doesnt mean the competition is flimsy, and there are no gimmes when it comes to playing time.
I think were stronger and faster than we were [last year], Verducci said. The only thing theyre guaranteed from one year to the next is that theyll be one year older.
Playing all four quarters translates to solid off-field conditioning and on-field playmaking, Verducci said. So who better to rely on than the two guys he considers very special playmakers, Malcom Westbrook and Moses Webb?
Verducci compares Westbrook, a wide receiver, to Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald because of his route-running ability and a penchant to go up and pull down the football. Westbrook set a school record with 47 receptions last year.
On the ground the Cardinals have Webb, a running back who Verducci compares to the New England Patriots Wes Welker because of his ability to get open, rack up yards and score.
This is my tenth year at Ireton, my fifth as head coach, and [Westbrook and Webb] are the two most gifted offensive players Ive seen in 10 years, Verducci said. Theyre going to create a lot of problems for defensive coaches.
And then there is quarterback PJ Ziggler, perhaps the Cardinals most unheralded asset. He looked good last year, completing almost 70 percent of his passes for more than 2,000 yards as a sophomore. A year older, Ziggler looks to improve on his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15-8.
Hes was on the right side of things last year, but [our expectations] were not as high as our expectations are coming into this year, Verducci said.
Finishing games hinges just as much on the defense as the offense, Verducci said. So hell focus his attention on becoming physically tougher, especially in the fourth quarter. Last year Ireton consistently missed tackles when they counted most, but this years squad is more stacked, Verducci said.
Ireton scrimmages Riverdale Baptist Saturday and opens the regular season against rival Bishop OConnell at home September 2.