2019 Varsity Football Season Preview
Liam Smith ’20
Before the 2019-2020 football season kicked off, I visited our Defensive Coordinator, Mr. Fikac, and Head Coach, Mr. Kubiak, separately to discuss all of the moving parts on our team. In a very Kubiakan way, I outlined all of the areas in which I wanted information to save as much of their time as possible: offense, defense, special teams, team outlook, offseason, competition, and playmakers to watch.
Gone are the giants of Nathaniel Beal and Thomas Gordon—may they find success at Virginia and Northwestern, respectively. “The strategy will change depending on how we play. We have to wait a few games to gauge what we’re best at. We’ll run our offense from last year and adjust to whoever breaks out and whatever works best,” Head Coach Kubiak explained.
But enter stage right two speedy veterans—Bryce Palumbo and Corlan Joubert—with sophomore Robert Smith at 6’1”. Gone is the dashing Michael Wiley (now at Arizona); a bulldozer, backed by two jackrabbits, fill our vital running back slots. “We have [junior] Alex May and [sophomore] Joel Crawford to back up Dylan Campbell. Both have had really good camps and both are expected to be productive. Campbell has good hands while May has good speed and route running. I expect all those guys to be able to run and catch the ball,” said Coach Kubiak.
Gone is quarterback Michael Hansen, who could pilot this unorthodox offense in today’s high school football landscape. But wait, who’s driving the boat?
“We moved William Dickason, the tight end last year, to quarterback. We have a couple of guys getting back up reps. We have another guy who’s been injured, Conner O’Hara, who we’re expecting to come back at some point,” explained Coach Kubiak.
How did Dickinson make the transition? “Well, William’s naturally very smart,” said Coach Kubiak. He knew the offense.The jump in knowledge base wasn’t as steep. The biggest jump for him is the mechanics of playing quarterback: his drops, his footwork, his throwing. It’s still a work in progress but that’s where he’s had the most growth.”
The defense returns six of eleven starters this year. With experience, speed and poise, Strake Jesuit may have the best defense in the district. Coach Fikac noted, “Because of the six returning starters coming in to fill big shoes, we feel like we match up really well against the offenses in the district. On the defensive line, the main guy to watch for is Jacob Psyk. He’s a very explosive player. The defense as a whole is led by our inside linebacker corp: Christian Gordon and Jayce Bordelon. [Their goal is] stopping the run and dropping into coverage when need be,”
Senior defensive lineman, Griffen Keneally, has been a breakout player for the team. Coach Fikac attested that Griffen “surprised me a ton. It started in the spring; he got really committed to the sport and hasn’t missed a beat over the summer. He’s in really good shape and his playing time should go up.”
After running on the fastest 4×400 team in the state, junior Malik Campbell has joined the squad at safety. “He was a big surprise!” added Coach Fikac. “Malik has been coming along quite well. We’re really grateful to have him.”
Lance Saizan looks to recover from a high ankle sprain. He should be ready to aid the secondary against St. Thomas in week one.
As far as the strategy of our defense goes, Coach Fikac notes, “We’re still set in the 3-4. But with the personnel we have, we could easily shift into the 4-3 or 4-2-5. If we can move guys around before the ball is snapped, we won’t be so predictable where teams can know exactly what to do Friday night. Hopefully we can catch them off guard,”
“Well, I definitely agree that in the playoffs, our special team errors cost us. However, we have a new special teams coach, Mr. Kimball, new to Strake Jesuit this year. Having a coach that can watch that unit full time will help us tremendously,” explained Coach Kubiak.
Who are the big legs of the unit? Kubiak related, “We have a lot of kickers and punters with different skill sets. Aidan Franklin and Liam Garcia have different approaches to punting. Liam is a traditional punter. Aidan is more of rugby style punter who can rollout, gain distance and punt in a certain direction. Joseph Manero is our kickoff guy while Max Castellanos handles field goals. In that past, we used to have only one guy. Now we have four.” The Special Teams have surely received the most upgrades this offseason.
Last season, Pearland won the district only to lose in the early rounds of the playoffs to Dickinson High School. Strake not only wants to win the district, but hopefully advance to deeper areas of the playoffs. I asked Coach Kubiak how how we can return to the ten win mark this year.
“We’re trying not to compare teams by years,” he said. “Every year is different; we have to play to the best of our ability. But it’s important that we go game by game. Football comes down to how each team’s positions matchup against the other’s. So we focus on beating whichever opponent we have that week. I think if prepare like that, we can be as good as anybody in the playoffs.”
During the offseason, the players conditioned “in JAC camp while some saw personal trainers. But from day one, we had a ton of energy. JAC camp has been vital to keeping our team in competitive shape,” explained Coach Fikac. Coach Kubiak thought “our offseason commitment to the weight room was outstanding. The players showed up nearly everyday and put in a lot of work: probably the best that I’ve seen in recent years. Also, 95% of our guys play other sports. We saw Denzel Blackwell go to state in track. We saw Dylan Campbell and Bryce Palumbo playing baseball well into the playoffs. You see guys coming from soccer and lacrosse. I think we have so many players competing and achieving in other sports that it helps our whole team when we finally come back together in the fall.” Our team knows what it takes to win from the lessons our players learn in other sports.
Dawson and Taylor high schools will pose a threat to Strake Jesuit. Fikac explained, “Alief Taylor’s JV was really good and Pearland Dawson’s JV was deep. They’ve got some younger guys that are really going to step up on varsity this year; we’re gonna have to prepare for them.” However, if there is one game on the schedule which beckons this school’s support in the masses, it is the October 18th game at The Rig. Pearland has one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in Houston, J.D Head. In last year’s homecoming game, the three-star recruit and Elite 11 invitee had his way against our defense. We will have to defeat that squad if we want the district 23-6A title.
Playmakers to Watch
Here is my list of players to watch for top performances. This list does not diminish the other players. Everyone has to play his role for Strake Jesuit to win.
Veterans on Defense:
- Denzel Blackwell, Sr: Safety
- Christian Gordon, Sr: Linebacker
- Jacob Psyk, Jr: Defensive Line
- Grant Perry, Sr: Defensive Line
- Griffen Keneally, Sr: Defensive Line
Newcomers on Defense:
- Jayce Bordelon, Jr: Linebacker
- Malik Campbell, Jr: Safety
Veterans on Offense:
- Dylan Campbell, Sr: Running Back
- Barclay Briggs, Sr. / Luke Melton Jr. / Max Merril Jr: Offensive Line
- William Dickason, Sr: Quarterback
- Bryce Palumbo, Sr. / Corlan Joubert, Sr: Slot Receivers
Newcomers on Offense:
- Robert Smith, Jr: Wide Receiver
- Alex May, Jr. / Joel Crawford So: Running Backs
- Thomas Jewett So: Tight End
This time last year I asked “how do you think we’ll do against St. Thomas?”. I feel like I already know what you are going to say.
Kubiak: “Really? What am I going to say?”
You are going to say, “We’re gonna try to do our best and prepare week-by-week. We’re not gonna get excited, even if it’s a famous rivalry, even if KPRC’s Friday Football Frenzy is there. We’re taking care of our duties.”
Kubiak: “Ha, you know me so well.”
If anything changes this season, hopefully, it will be an even bigger number in the win column.