Catonsville High football coach Rich Hambor doesn’t hesitate when asked which unit has the most experience.
“I think the offensive line is the most experienced part of the team,” said Hambor, starting his 11th season as coach.
Hambor has coached six playoff teams, including three straight from 2010 through 2012 and has a 68-40 career record.
The 2011 team went 12-0 before losing in the state semifinals. Two starting linemen from that team are on the 2014 roster -- senior left guard Zach Delker (5 feet 11, 255 pounds) and junior center Jake Faircloth (5-6, 220).
After going 4-6 last season, Delker wants to get back to the playoffs.
“If we just do what we are told to do and be consistent and do our fundamentals and everything, we could go undefeated,” Delker said. “Our 2011 team was only supposed to win four games and they went to the state semis, so I think we can do really good.”
The rest of the offensive line features senior tight end Danny Bruno (6-4, 260), senior left tackle Greg Lane (5-10, 285), senior right tackle Arsalan Syed (6-1, 270) and senior right guard Tommy Sadler (6-1, 200).
They will block senior tailback Evan Rhodes (5-6, 165) and junior Brian Taylor (5-8, 170). Rhodes gained 611 yards on 138 attempts (4.4 yards per carry) and scored six touchdowns last season.
“He’s tough, a quiet leader and the kids respect him a lot,” Hambor said.
Added offensive coordinator John Youngberg: “He spent a lot of time on the JV sidelines as a varsity player and he learned a lot of how the offense worked.”
Rhodes tries to use his size as an advantage.
"My line is looking good,” he said. “They were good last year and I like their size because I can hide behind them until I get to the second level and explode out and try and get some yards. I wouldn’t want to have any other line in the county.
“I want 20 touchdowns and 1,600 yards, and I know that is not going to come easy, especially playing in the 4A conference,” Rhodes said.
Having Taylor behind Rhodes gives Catonsville a healthy competition at running back.
“Brian Taylor is really pushing him hard,” Hambor said. “He was the best JV back in the county on the county championship squad last year.”
Fullbacks include juniors Daymon Jones (5-9, 190) and returning varsity veteran Daaron ‘Ya Ya’ Williams (5-9, 195).
H-back is junior Andrew Peabody (5-9, 185).
Starting wide receivers are senior Antwan Pearson (6-5, 185) and junior Jamal Johnson (5-9, 150), who moves up from junior varsity.
There are three starting quarterback candidates. Juniors Cameron McCarthy (6-2, 170) and Danny Terzi (5-10, 200) played on the junior varsity, although Terzi was at linebacker. The third possibility is senior Charles Faulk (6-1, 160), who played on the junior varsity in ninth grade before transferring to Pikesville for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
“It’s a good competition between those three guys,” Hambor said.
Defensively, the Comets don’t return a lot of starters, but they have a number of veterans who played significant minutes last season.
Anchoring the interior line on defense are seniors Nate Merril (6-7, 220) and Tavon Lofties (6-5, 235). Senior Sequan Smith (6-4, 180) will play one defensive end/outside linebacker role and Pearson will fill the other one.
Senior Lemonte Morrison (6-1, 170) could also fill a gap at defensive end. “He’s going to be a good player for us,” Hambor said.
Youngberg, the linebackers coach, thinks the defense will catch on quickly after facing a learning curve last year.
“Last year was a new defensive scheme and this year they have a year under their belt and we are already ahead of where we were last year,” Youngberg said.
Inside linebackers are two-way starters Williams and Jones.
Rhodes is the free safety and junior Andrew Southwell (5-10, 160) is the strong safety, with Johnson and junior Zaire Crosby (5-9, 150) playing cornerback.
Senior Garrett Wack (6-foot, 180) returns as the punter and kicker and has range up to 45 yards on field goals.
“He’s really good. He’s one of the best kickers we’ve had,” Hambor said.
“I love it when I hear the coaches yell for the extra point team or field goal team,” Wack said. “It’s exciting and I can’t wait to get some more chances to go out for more field goals this year.”
The goal is to return to the playoffs.
“We have probably the most driven group we’ve had in a while,” said Hambor, who praised the leadership of Delker, Rhodes and Pearson. “Those guys have been around it (winning). They know what it took and they know what it takes, but they model it more than they talk about it.”
Catonsville opens the season at home on Friday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. against Thomas Johnson.
The Comets home schedule also includes games against Dulaney (Sept. 12), Kenwood (Sept. 26), Woodlawn (Oct. 16) and Parkville (Oct. 31).