With a Division II state championship and four City League titles on his resume, Central Catholic's Greg Dempsey has proven he can coach the game of football.
But even Dempsey will admit that it wouldn't take a football genius to figure out the most logical scheme for his Fighting Irish offense to employ this season.
With six senior offensive linemen on the roster who were starters in 2009, a proven runner in the backfield, and a first-year starter at quarterback, this logic dictated that the Irish should favor the run.
"Right now, having six returning linemen, you obviously have to count on them for help in establishing a run game," Dempsey said. "We have a returning 1,000-yard rusher, and we have to let some things feed off of that."
Two games into the season, Central has rushed the ball 83 percent of the time and accounted for 83 percent of its total yardage on the ground in nonleague wins over Bowling Green, 30-0, and Buffalo (NY) Bishop Timon, 56-6.
Led by senior Calebb Goings' 42 carries for 269 yards (four touchdowns), the Irish have run the ball 90 times for 551 yards and 10 TDs while completing nine of 19 passes for 108 yards and one TD.
That ground work has been paved by a starting front that averages 6-foot-1 1/2 and 280 pounds. It is a group highlighted by two players who committed to Division I colleges during the offseason: 6-4, 330-pound left tackle Chris Boles and 6-2, 280-pound center Kyle Cameron, who will be playing at Illinois and the University of Toledo, respectively.
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"So many people want to stop our run game that we see eight or nine in the box [defenders near line] sometimes," Boles said. "That can really open up our pass game for our quarterback and our receivers."
What is the key to running when the enemy knows it's coming?
"We just follow our progressions and take on whatever is in our way," Boles said. "This is the best offensive line I've been on since I've been here. We're all pretty experienced. We've been with each other since freshman year, and we've got a real good chemistry.
"It's a bond. We can talk to each other without screaming at each other, and that helps. We know each other's tendencies and we know we can lean on each other."
While linemen are sometimes stereotyped as relying on more
brawn than brain, Cameron believes having both is the key to an effective line.
"We're really smart up front," Cameron said. "We talk together a lot and we know how to communicate quickly."
The line communication extends to the backfield.
"Calebb lets us know if we're missing something, or if we need to block a certain way," Cameron said. "I really love his vision. He's very quick and he can get vertical [upfield] in a hurry. I love the way he runs. I wouldn't have anybody else. Calebb's a huge part of what we do."
Joining Boles and Cameron are left guard Ryan Gregory (5-11, 260), right guard Cameron Glover (5-10, 250), and right tackle Chris Castillo (6-3, 280).
Senior Jason Lee (6-2, 240), who was a starter for much of the 2009 season, rotates in at all four line spots other than center.
"They're definitely a violent group, which helps," Dempsey said of his line. "Their experience is important, and they're also big and strong and athletic. Those are great qualities to have."
A seventh senior, Mike Zenk (6-2, 240), serves as the team's long snapper and, according to Dempsey, has played well enough to draw recruiting interest at that spot.
"It's amazing having them up there," Goings said of his line teammates. "It gives me a lot more confidence because I know I have a lot of veterans in front of me. They open up a lot of holes, and that allows me to do what I do. They make my job 10 times easier."
How important is execution when the defense loads up to stop the run?
"It's a lot of pressure," said Goings, who rushed for 1,004 yards for the 9-3 Irish last season, "but I think we can live with it. If we all stay healthy and do what we're coached to do, I know coach Dempsey can get us where we need to go."
The conservative ground game - which doesn't exactly appeal to fans seeking more aerial bang for their ticket buck - has enabled Dempsey to bring senior quarterback Joey Schneider along at a reasonable pace. The 6-1, 180-pounder started at safety last season. He is 9-of-18 passing for 108 yards and one TD in two starts.
"I think our quarterback has been underestimated," Goings said. "I think he's going to come through."
"Coach Dempsey's not going to throw Joey into bad situations," Cameron said. "He knows how to use him, how to give him confidence, and how to get him to be a good quarterback."
Dempsey's long-term plan calls for more run-pass balance, especially by the time Central hits its four-game October gauntlet (St. Francis de Sales, Whitmer, Akron Buchtel, and St. John's Jesuit) to close the regular season.
"Anytime you're trying to build throughout a season, a whole 10-game schedule, you definitely want to try and be balanced," said Dempsey, who at 90-28 (54-13 in CL) in 10-plus seasons is Central's all-time winningest football coach. "But that stuff all develops as the season goes on.
"You have to be willing to be stubborn as a coach, and not care what you're going to hear coming from behind you [fans in stands] and knowing what's best for your team. You don't want to put your defense or your special teams in bad situations."
So, for the time being, smash-mouth football will dominate the play calling, and the Irish also will rely heavily on their defense.
The Irish face a much greater challenge tonight when they travel to Mishawaka Penn High School in Indiana. Last season, Penn came into Central's Gallagher Stadium and rolled out with a 17-7 victory over the Irish.
Central opens City League play next Friday with a 7 p.m. game at Start, followed by CL games against Bowsher and Clay.
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