Prep football: McNicholas voted No. 1 team in GCLC Central

The McNicholas High School football program is favored to continue its recent dominance of the Greater Catholic League Coed Central Division.

The Rockets have won five straight Central championships, and league coaches have unanimously voted them as the team to beat in 2017.

“We do take pride in that,” said McNick coach Mike Orlando, starting his seventh year at the helm. “We appreciate the votes, but we play in a great league. Anytime you can call yourself a champion of the GCL, it’s something to be proud of.”

Badin finished second, Purcell Marian third and Roger Bacon fourth in the coaches poll. Half the division has new head coaches — Nick Yordy has taken over at Badin, while former BHS coach Dave Wirth is now in charge at Purcell.

Yordy likes what he’s seen so far from his Rams, but he won’t be making any predictions after Badin staggered to a 2-8 record in 2016.

“I’m not going to put too much stock into where we’re ranked right now because we’ve still got a lot to prove,” Yordy said. “The preseason polls are what they are. I’m new to the league, so I’m just trying to figure it all out.

RELATED: Yordy begins rebuilding process at Badin

“We’ve got a ways to go. We want to focus on the little things and play hard, and hopefully those little things will take care of the bigger things.”

The 2016 season was not a great year for the Central Division. Not only did nobody make the playoffs, nobody even had a winning record. McNick led the way at 4-6.

The Rockets were 4-3 in league play. Badin, Purcell and Bacon were all 1-6.

“It’s a goal of ours to win the league, so I don’t want to marginalize that,” Orlando said. “Winning the championship was a positive. But to be quite honest, we were below the expectations and standards we have for us.”

Orlando said his numbers are down this year (56 players in grades 9-12), and McNick’s three nonleague opponents (Turpin, Anderson, Taft) were all playoff teams last season. Yet the veteran coach believes his squad has the potential to compete for a Division III, Region 12 postseason berth.

Senior Cole Burdick is taking over at quarterback for Cam Haynes, who threw for 2,463 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior in 2016.

“Cam knew his lane. He was a dropback quarterback, and he did a really good job for us in that role,” Orlando said. “Cole Burdick is a bit more dynamic and a little more athletic, so it does open up that part of the game to us.

“We’ll still a lot of the same things we’ve been doing. It wasn’t the schemes or the strategy last year. It was our execution. And we had some guys that were probably playing a year too soon just because of the situation we were in.”

Defensively, senior Matt Isemann will be a three-year starter at linebacker. Junior Jason Fehr, senior Ryan Belmont and junior Bryan Fehr are also returning linebackers, and senior Jackson Gear is back at end.

“We think our front seven is probably going to be the best of the group,” Orlando said. “Hopefully we can do some things up front to minimize the lack of experience we have in the back.”

He said the league is a bit of a mystery this year with two new head coaches and everybody coming off subpar seasons.

“I know Mike (Blaut) has a plan over there at Bacon. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re a little bit better than what people think they are,” Orlando said. “Badin’s been really, really good for a lot of years. I think last year was just a clunker year. Maybe there a little bit low in talent and the injury bug hit them. It doesn’t take a lot in a season like that to wind up 2-8. I’ve been there.”

The Rockets swept their Central rivals last season, defeating Bacon 30-27, Purcell 27-6 and Badin 52-0. McNick shared the Central title with the Rams in 2015.

GCLC Central: The Vote

Here’s how the coaches voted in the preseason Greater Catholic League Coed Central Division football poll, with point totals and first-place votes (in parentheses):

1. McNicholas (4) 16

2. Badin 11

3. Purcell Marian 7

4. Roger Bacon 6

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