TOWN AND COUNTRY • Bryan Bradford's lunch came to the first day of preseason practice. He brought it in his stomach.
It didn't stay there.
The CBC football team had some stragglers on the official first day it began defending its Class 6 championship. Coach Scott Pingel felt it necessary to make a point to his Cadets. As the players broke into smaller groups to work by position, Pingel's whistle blew. It was time to run.
A position by position breakdown of the area's top players, regardless of grade, going into the 2018 season.
The players ran gassers as the latecomers filtered in. They dropped to the turf and popped back up again for a gut-busting number of up-downs as the latest of the late arrivals sprinted down and back as a group and then again as individuals.
Pingel's point was simple. How can your teammates count on you to step up under pressure in a game when they can't count on you to make it to practice on time?
CBC went 13-1 last season, ran its Metro Catholic Conference win streak to 32 games on the way to its eighth consecutive league title, won its fourth consecutive district and claimed its second state championship in four seasons despite a multitude of injuries. Underclassmen stepped into prominent roles and performed at the end.
This time around those underclassmen are the starters and there are a mess of them back. CBC is the No. 1 large school in the STLhighschoolsports.com preseason rankings.
“It's different this year,” senior receiver Julian Williams said. “We got some leadership from last year so we're giving that back to the younger guys so if someone else goes down they'll be ready.”
Last season Williams (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) caught 21 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns. He had 12 receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the state semifinal and final when Ohio State wide receiver signees Kamryn Babb and Cameron Brown did not play because of injury.
“It shows you if you're buying into the program, you're in the weight room, you're working on the field, you're not taking a rep off (you'll be ready)," senior tight end Niko Hea said. "Being able to step up and win state for your team, there's no other feeling like that. It's awesome.”
CBC's offensive line returns five players with significant starting experience. Senior left tackle Josh Plohr (6-6, 285), junior left guard Brady Feeney (6-5, 280), senior right guard Ben Stater (6-4, 290) and senior right tackle Jeremiah Marlin (6-6, 330) all started. Senior center Robert Gorczyca (6-0, 300) started as a sophomore but was among the injured as a junior. He's healthy and back at work. Should injury befall the Cadets, they will continue plugging away.
“We got more guys reps this summer. We improved our depth,” Pingel said. “We're pretty fortunate that we have depth and size.”
Entering his third year as the starting quarterback is reigning Post-Dispatch All-Metro offensive player of the year Brett Gabbert (6-0, 200). His first two seasons, Gabbert completed 414 of his 612 pass attempts for 5,827 yards, 64 touchdowns and was intercepted nine times. He has verbally committed to Miami (Ohio).
Bradford (6-1, 230) was not the Cadets' primary ball carrier through the first three games of last season. He won the job with a big-time performance against Edwardsville and kept it rolling. He rushed for 1,505 yards and 28 touchdowns and went off for 247 yards and four scores in the state semifinals and finals.
Williams is back at receiver. Hea (6-4, 225) is getting several Division I looks at tight end. Senior tight end Carson Buddemeyer (6-3, 220) caught a season-high five passes in CBC's 31-14 victory over Blue Springs in the title game. He had the Cadets' only touchdown pass that night when he found Williams for the go-ahead 53-yard score.
The defense returns six starters, and that doesn't include senior defensive end MJ Anderson (6-4, 265), who is healthy this year after he broke his leg the first week of last year's preseason practice. He recently verbally committed to Minnesota.
“He's had a tremendous summer. We're expecting big things,” Pingel said. “When he's right, he's pretty tough to block because he's so long and fast.”
Senior linebacker Jaden Brown (6-0, 205) had 86 tackles and five sacks last season. Senior Anthony Tillman (5-10, 185) is a four-year starter and will handle outside linebacker duties with junior Mike West (6-5, 215). Senior Elijah Robinson (5-11, 210) makes the move from running back to inside linebacker.
The defensive secondary features seniors Taylor Robinson (6-1, 185), Malik Billingsley (5-9, 165) and Larry Williams Jr. (6-1, 195). Robinson had 45 tackles and three interceptions. Billingsley had 34 tackles and two picks.
Junior Eric Loomis (5-10, 140) will handle kicking duties.
CBC's schedule is loaded with the best opponents it could get. The Cadets open at 7 p.m. Friday by playing host to O'Fallon. Then they draw No. 3 large school Edwardsville at home in Week 2 and Chaminade visits to open MCC play in Week 3.
There are road trips to Rockhurst and Christians of Faith Academy in Columbus, Ohio.
The biggest test just might be a showdown at home against St. John's College out of Washington D.C. St. John's College is the No. 1-ranked team in Maryland and, according to one national outlet, the No. 5 team in the nation.
“It's a schedule I'm looking forward to. I'm excited about it,” Pingel said. “We'll see where our guys are.”
Every opponent that crosses CBC's path is going to bring its best game. They all want a piece of the champs.
The Cadets feel they are prepared for it.
“Everyone loves to give us their best shot. We have to come out every game and be 100 percent focused and give our best effort,” Hea said. “That's what everyone wants out of us so when we come out here we make sure they get it.”
2018 area football schedules
Plan your calendar for the 2018 high school football season, all in one place. For any corrections or additions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.