Football preview: Cardinal Newman ready to climb back to the top

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cardinal Newman sophomore Jordon Brookshire will lead the Cardinals offense this season as the starting quarterback. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

Cardinal Newman sophomore Jordon Brookshire will lead the Cardinals offense this season as the starting quarterback. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

They went 8-4, tied for second in the tough North Bay League and won a North Coast Section playoff game before losing on the road, by three points, in the quarterfinals. For some schools, that would qualify as a banner year. The expectations are a little higher at Cardinal Newman, a program that has won 11 section football championships.

“It didn’t sit well,” wide receiver/safety Kasey Mansen said at a recent Newman practice.

“It felt more like a letdown, to be honest,” cornerback Matt Knott added. “We worked really hard, but we didn’t have a big group of seniors last year. We had a lot of juniors starting both ways. So it was a big learning year for us.”

Now the Cardinals may be poised to return to where their alumni expect them to be — atop the NBL standings, competing for an NCS title and contemplating a run at a state Division 3 championship. Of course, a lot of things will have to break right at the private Catholic school for it to line up that way.

What bodes well for Cardinal Newman is its wealth of varsity experience, something that was in short supply last year. The Cardinals defense returns largely intact, with eight starters back, including all four linebackers and three of four in the secondary. The list includes 2013 All-NBL second-team picks like linebackers Pat Evans, Bryce McChinak and Zach Stolz, cornerback Tommy Streb and nose guard Duncan Hatch. All of them are seniors now.

Cardinal Newman surrendered an average of 24.7 points in seven league games last year, a figure coach Paul Cronin would very much like to improve.

On offense, Cronin will deploy an offensive line that includes two starters from a year ago, one of them being All-NBL incumbent Reed Palmer (still just a junior), and two other guys who saw substantial playing time. The only real newcomer is center Kaulana Ako, who started for the JV squad a year ago. Newman also welcomes back its top two running backs from 2013, shifty Craig Lucey and the bullish Stolz.

Newman’s biggest loss is a major one, though. Keaton Dunsford, who started at quarterback for two years and passed for nearly 5,300 yards, has moved on to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and presumably from there to Princeton.

Dunsford’s replacement is intriguing. Jordon Brookshire is one of just two sophomores on Cardinal Newman’s varsity roster, and a rare 10th-grade starter in Cronin’s complicated, timing-based offense. Brookshire may never be the classic pocket quarterback that Dunsford was, but he is an exceptional athlete. Cronin’s task is to mold him into a passer.

“Where he started, like in spring ball to now, it’s been drastic change,” Mansen said of Brookshire. “Spring ball he was like, I wouldn’t say nervous, but he was more of a straight running quarterback. And now Cronin’s worked with him to the point where he’s so versatile. The threat he has right now as a sophomore — it’s going to be exciting.”

Fortunately for Brookshire, he’s got all those experienced seniors to lean on as he develops. The Class of 2015 is an especially tight-knit group of friends at Newman.

“Since we were freshmen, we’ve always been close,” Knott said. “Like we used to gather on weekends and hang out and watch freshmen football film even when it wasn’t required. Ten of us would meet up at a time and watch film together. A lot of us coming in freshman year had never played football before, but we were pretty decent athletes so we kind of bonded together.”

Cronin said he has enjoyed this crop of boys since he taught them PE as freshmen, citing their collective character, work ethic and personality.

“This is kind of a special group of guys,” he said. “They’re humble, and they like one another, and you can see that. That’s a cool thing. Whether it translates into five wins or 20 wins, it’s a good thing for them to go live their life with.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

CARDINAL NEWMAN CARDINALS

Coach: Paul Cronin (13th year)
2013 record: 8-4 overall, 5-2 NBL
2013 JV record: 10-0

Players to watch
Jordon Brookshire, So., QB — Sensational athlete seeks to prove he can lead Newman’s offense as an underclassman.
Craig Lucey, Sr., RB — Newman’s top ground gainer until he injured his shoulder last year. Lucey is healthy for 2014.
Pat Evans, Sr., LB — Cardinals’ leading tackler (64) from last season returns as senior.
Kasey Mansen, Sr., S/WR — Two-way player is a candidate to return kicks, too. Coach Paul Cronin said Mansen has had “a great summer” preparing.

Game not to miss
The NBL race could very well come down to Cardinal Newman’s match-up against Casa Grande, the defending league champion, in Petaluma on Oct. 17.

All-time highlight
Carrying a 13-1 record into the game, the Cardinals intercepted future NFL QB Jimmy Clausen 3 times but fell to Oaks Christian in overtime of the 2006 D3 state championship.

Schedule
Aug. 30 – Churchill Co., Nev. (at Loomis), 5 p.m.
Sept. 5 -at St. Mary’s (Stockton), 7:15 p.m.
Sept. 13 – Clayton Valley, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 – BYE
Sept. 26 – Santa Rosa, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 – at Maria Carrillo, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10 – at Rancho Cotate, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 – at Casa Grande, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 – Ukiah, 7 p.m.
Oct. 31 – at Montgomery, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 7 – Windsor, 7 p.m.