Varsity Cats want more

PETER RUICCI Rob Wright of the Sault Sabercats tries to elude two Sudbury defenders while returning a punt in a 2018 27-26 loss to the Gladiators at Superior Heights. jpg, SM

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They’ve lost in the West Division final the last two seasons.

With that in mind, it isn’t difficult to figure out the objective for the 2019 Sault Sabercats varsity squad.

“Our goal is to be playing on the August long weekend,” said head coach Matt Premo, in reference to when the Ontario Football Conference (OFC) traditionally stages its championship game. “We need to find a way to get over the hump. And this year we definitely feel it’s attainable.”

A big reason for that confidence, explained Premo, can be found by looking over the team’s roster as it works toward being ready for a May 18 opener against the Brantford Bisons (4 p.m.) at Superior Heights.

It’s dotted with numerous returning starters.

“We have a lot of good returning veterans and some top new guys,” said Premo, whose club finished the 2018 regular season with a 6-2, win-loss record. “I think it’ll be a good mix.”

The Cats defeated Brantford 33-16 in a West semifinal last season, before dropping a 33-8 decision to the Waterloo Predators in the division final.

On defence, the club returns starting ends Julian Gioia and Hunter Lambert-Mousseau and tackles Zach Tadashore and Brandon Southwind.

Also, Brennan Fisher, one of the regulars on the offensive line last season, is expected to play as part of the defensive line rotation this season.

The group of returning starters at linebacker includes impact players Jacob Jurich and Joe Rosso. Joining them is Aaron Keranen and Evan Sicoli, who missed a good part of last season due to injury.

A number of returning players are expected to contribute in the secondary.

That group includes Ethan West, Eli Provenzano, Noah Nadon and Carter Harrison, Premo said. Nick Fowler, who played for the Cats two summers ago, returns.

And the team is also excited about newcomer Zack Politano.

On offence, starting quarterback Jordan Robinson-Wright returns, along with receivers Travis Johnson, Taylor Holub and Rob Wright.

Newcomer Tyler Brechin, who played for the Cats junior varsity team a season ago, is expected to start at one of the receiver spots.

The versatile and talented Brechin was named the outstanding player last fall in the city’s High School Senior Football League.

Meantime, returning running backs Mitchell DellaVedova and Zac Zeppa will be joined by Nick Pagnotta, who starred last summer for the Cats junior varsity squad.

“We’re excited about Nick,” Premo said. “We expect to use him at running back and slotback.”

The offensive line features four returning starters.

That group includes Isaac Smithers, Matt Wheten, Michael Giuliani and Jakob Hagan.

Other newcomers to watch, Premo said, are receiver Dylan Forsyth and defensive back Ethan Fawcett.

“Our defence has been a strong point on the team year-in-and-year-out,” said Premo, whose defence surrendered just 84 points a season ago, fourth lowest among 17 teams. “But with the number of guys returning on our offensive line, we also expect to field a strong offence this season.”

The coach also spoke of how pleased the organization is with its depth.

Over 50 players are working towards the season opener.

“You need that depth to be able to compete and make a playoff run,” Premo noted.

The club’s fourth indoor workout is slated for Sunday from 1-3 p.m. at the Northern Community Centre.

Weather permitting, the team plans to work out on Tuesday from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Superior Heights.