Corey Bethany had a good problem this summer, one other football coaches wished they had.
St. Mary's didn't have enough helmets.
As participation in football dwindles in certain corners of the area, St. Mary's is rapidly growing. Bethany ordered 30 helmets this summer. That's on top of the 15 that were ordered last year. As schools scramble to field junior varsity and freshmen teams, the Dragons are seeing their numbers swell. There are 85 kids in the program, which has grown each of the past three years under Bethany.
“That's the big turnaround,” Bethany said. “St. Mary's is an option for (kids who want to play football). It's attractive to parents and kids.”
The Dragons are in the midst of their rejuvenation, so the roster is in fact mostly kids. There's about a dozen seniors, with the rest of the roster full of underclassmen. Though they're young, Bethany believes they have the potential to make an impact this fall.
“Experience is a little bit overrated if you have guys that can play,” Bethany said.
The Dragons have just that. It's why St. Mary's is the No. 10 small school in the STLhighschoolsports.com preseason rankings.
St. Mary's finished last season 5-6 and lost in a Class 4 district semifinal to eventual state champion Ladue. The Rams were one of the Dragons' three opponents to contend for a state title last season. The Dragons also dropped meetings with Class 5 champion Vianney and Class 3 runner-up Cardinal Ritter.
This year, St. Mary's wants to flip the script. The Dragons have sky-high aspirations and spent the offseason with their heads down as they worked to fulfill their desires.
“We know how much work we put in, how much we've talked about it. We have to go out and show it,” senior defensive end Patrick Harris said. “The guys are more bought in. We know we have talent and every year I've been here we've had talent. It's a matter of buying in.”
The Dragons are buying what Bethany and his staff are selling. That includes senior quarterback Cam'Ron McCoy, who completed 114 of his 216 passes for 1,947 yards, 22 touchdowns and was intercepted 17 times. McCoy (6-foot, 168 pounds) joined St. Mary's last July and felt like he was always playing catchup with the playbook. Now that he's been around for more than a year, McCoy said he knows what he's doing better than ever before.
“It's muscle memory. I go through progressions and check downs and things like that (at practice),” he said. “I've learned my reads better, it's become more fluent.”
McCoy is hoping to showcase his ability as a playmaker with his feet. He said he added 20 pounds in the offseason to be better prepared for the hits that could come when he's in the open field.
“I'm going to show my abilities in both aspects,” he said.
McCoy has one of the top targets in the state in sophomore receiver Kevin Coleman (5-11, 170). Coleman caught 47 passes for 1,045 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's become a top target for NCAA Division I programs as he already has offers from Missouri, Illinois, Georgia, LSU, Miami (Florida), Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas and more. Coleman has been tabbed a team captain this season. It's a nod to his growth and maturity this offseason.
“His leadership and his development of that is what really is helping us as a team,” Bethany said. “He's responded and been tremendous for us.”
St. Mary's will have to prove itself up front and in the running game. The Dragons return one starter on the offensive line. They bring back nearly all 11 of their rushing touchdowns. Harris believes the new guys stepping in on the line will be up to the challenge. They're young but they've got game.
“We're stacked at D-line and O-line,” Harris said. “It gives me goosebumps (thinking about this season). We're going to show we're ready to compete.”
Harris (6-0, 215) made an impact at defensive end last season as he accounted for 78 tackles and 11 sacks. He along with senior rover and captain Timmy Muxo are two of the more experienced returners on the defensive side. Muxo (5-9, 185) racked up 72 tackles and made three interceptions as a junior. One of the few four-year players in the program, Muxo has had a front-row seat as things have changed on the gridiron at Southside Catholic.
“It's way different. It's great how this program has grown,” he said. “When Coach Bethany came in he changed the culture.”
This season the Dragons want to show just how different things are. They'll get the chance to show it when they open at home with Westminster on Aug. 30. The Wildcats have won two of the last three meetings including a 44-30 victory last season.
The second game of the season pits St. Mary's against Chicago Phillips in the Gateway Scholars Classic at East St. Louis. Then there are Archdiocesan Athletic Association matchups against Borgia, Cardinal Ritter, St. Dominic and a Marianist rivalry game with Vianney.
The Dragons will know who they are when the postseason rolls around. Whether or not that resembles who they believe themselves to be at the moment will be seen. Bethany is a believer.
“I'm excited about this group. They're learning to play for each other,” Bethany said. “You get talent and they start playing for each other, you can go a long way in high school sports.”