Wildcats figure to be more formidable this year.
A year ago the St. James High School football team opened its season with its finest offensive output of the year.
The Tigers, however, figure to be in for a much more stern test in their 2014 opener Friday night.
St. James kicks off the 2014 campaign Friday by traveling a few miles down I-44 for a non-conference contest against the Cuba Wildcats. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
The Tigers are trying to build on a 4-7 record of 2013. Cuba finished 2-8 a year ago.
In a home season-opener in 2013, the Tigers rolled to a 49-22 victory over Cuba.
After watching film from the Cuba jamboree performance on Friday, St. James head coach Greg Harlan says the Wildcats will be a much tougher opponent this time around.
And the main reason for that is senior quarterback Nick Lemons.
“They are much improved from last year,” Harlan said of Cuba. “Their quarterback is a very good athlete. Their offense runs through him.
“The key to winning the game will be to find a way to stop his rushing attack.”
Lemons led the Wildcats’ option offensive attack last season by rushing for 1,300 yards.
Other potential weapons for Cuba include junior running back Dayton Killeen; junior tight ends Jackson Mitchell and senior Devin Lea, and sophomore wideouts Lucas Davenport, junior Chas Barlage and freshman Levi Mitchell.
The Wildcats also return four of their five offensive line starters.
“Defensively (Cuba) ran a 4-3 (base defense) last year,” Harlan said. “It looks like they’re doing some similar things they had success.”
St. James also has some experience to work with, bringing back six offensive and eight defensive starters.
Junior quarterback Brett Karnes (1,387 yards, 10 TDs passing; 339 yards, three TDs rushing) returns to direct the Tiger attack. Other key returners include senior running back Garrett Ubben (107 rushing yards on 31 carries, four TDs) and senior wideout Jake Money (26 receptions for 299 yards).
Other Tiger returners include senior wideout Dan McCarthy, junior guard/center Sam Williams, senior tackle Marcus Bradshaw, junior tackle/guard Cody Yamnitz, junior tight end Thomas Casto, junior receiver Michael Phillips, sophomore running back Dawson Lynch, sophomore center Dillon Gray, junior guard Devon Figueroa, senior tackle Derek Hale, senior tight end Noah Bartle and junior receivers Alex Harrop and Tyler Glidden.
Williams is expected back after being sidelined with an elbow strain.
The Tigers’ tackle leader from a year ago, senior linebacker Cameron Orlando (91 tackles), is returns to the defense along with fellow returning starters Ubben (86 tackles) at outside linebacker, Money (72 tackles) at safety, McCarthy at cornerback, Figueroa at inside linebacker and linemen Bradshaw, Yamnitz and Williams.
“This week we work on our focus,” said Harlan, who said the Tigers came out of the Sullivan Jamboree last Friday injury-free. “During the jamboree I don’t think our focus was where it needed to be. We have to take care of the small things.”