Mount St. Michael is still looking to fill a number of key positions, but it is that need for competition that senior defensive tackle Odean Gilzene believes will bring out the best in his team in the end.
“I think people want to compete,” he said. “They aren’t as scared as last year to compete for a position. I think this year is going to surprise a lot of people.”
Most of the big names from last year’s Mountaineers squad graduated. A hungry group, however, stands ready to embrace their opportunity to shine and hopefully push Mount back into the CHSFL Class AAA playoffs. It lost to rival Cardinal Hayes on Thanksgiving in the ‘AA’ title game a year ago to end a 6-6 season.
“We have a good nucleus,” legendary Mount St. Michael coach Mario Valentini said. “We just have to to fill in those other spots.”
Mount has plenty of strengths despite still looking to fill a position here and there around the field. It returns the majority of its offensive line, a key for an attack that traditionally relies on the run. Senior tackle Miguel Gomez and guards Aijalon McLean and Lindsay Malcolm will anchor the unit. Junior Justin Davilla steps in at center, but the other tackle spot is still up for grabs.
Senior Max Rillen, who will carry much of the offensive load at fullback, gets the pleasure of running behind veterans. He isn’t as big as the Mountaineers fullbacks in recent years at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, but has bit more speed. Valentini said Rillen, who will also play linebacker, is tough to contain once he gets through the initial hole.
“He’s a tough kid, but he also has real good speed,” the coach said. “He can get through the line and he can go.”
Rillen will have a stable of talented running back to help him out. They will be led by seniors Aaron Brown and Devin Brissett. Mount is looking for one of its quarterbacks to distinguish themselves as senior Darius Hodges and last years junior varsity starter Kevin Leach-Brown were battling for the job late into the preseason. Leach-Brown can play receiver along side Julian Massiah and Joeandy Gonzalez if he doesn’t start at quarterback and Hodges would be used in a defensive backfield. Mount feels it can be successful with either as the starter.
“I’m comfortable with both of them,” Rillen said. “I know both of them pretty well, good guys on the field and off the field.”
The defensive leader on the other hand is unquestioned in Gilzene, a three-year starter. He will be surrounded by plenty of playmakers, especially at the linebacker with Carl Hoyte and Storm Williams along Rillen. Junior Teomar Fisher will bolster the defensive line, but it is Gilzene that will make it go.
“He’s a big guy,” Rillen said. “He’s a big part of the defense. He calls the huddles most of the time. He’s a good leader. A lot of guys look to him for leadership.”
Valentini sees plenty of potential in this group and his teams traditional improve as the season goes on. It’s a trend that could make them even more dangerous at the right time.
“As long as we can get better everyday and build up to when we get to the playoffs and we are ready to go, I think that is going to be big for us,” Valentini said.