Football is back, and Cadet fans were able to start out the year celebrating a win as St. John’s ran away with the home opener 48-0 against Miami Southridge (FL).
They’ll need to keep that momentum up, however, as St. John’s is entering a schedule that many analysts are calling the toughest in the nation. Following the Cadets’ game against Deerfield Beach (FL) this Saturday, they will visit St. Joseph’s (PA) and Duncanville (TX), the 11th and 8th ranked teams in the nation according to USA Today. St. John’s will then host IMG Academy (FL), 7th ranked, and Mater Dei (CA), 3rd, before a well-needed bye week. Two of those games, St. Joseph’s and Mater Dei, will be played at neutral site college stadiums: the Hawks will host the Cadets at Rutgers University, while the Monarchs will play in St. John’s Homecoming game at Catholic University.
To counter this difficult schedule, the team has adopted Head Coach Joe Casamento’s mentality of taking each week by itself.
“We just take it one game at a time, every game is one day,” junior defensive lineman Taizse Johnson said of the upcoming year. “Right now we know what we want to know, we’re not thinking about next week, we’re just preparing in practice physically like every week.”
Casamento explained the thought process behind a difficult schedule: “What we want to gain is we want to be playing well and being measured against the best we can get every week…so we can be the best we can possibly be. I don’t think we get better by playing somebody that you know you’re going to beat and you don’t have to be the best.”
After the four weeks of back-to-back of ranked matchups, St. John’s will begin their WCAC schedule by visiting Bishop McNamara (MD) and Good Counsel (MD) before taking a week off, then hosting DeMatha (MD) at Fernandez Stadium and Gonzaga (DC) at Catholic University. While the Cadets have not lost a regular season conference game in two years, these opponents are no sure win: Gonzaga entered the season ranked 16th by USA Today, and DeMatha began the year ranked 20th, but were dropped from the Top 25 following a road loss to 4th-ranked St. John Bosco (CA).
But St. John’s will be receiving a boost from two major returning players. Linebacker and one of three team captains Mekhail Sherman, who was injured in just the third game of last year and missed the rest of the season, is back for his senior season, making his first start in 10 months on Saturday.
Sherman said that he was able to lead his team from the sidelines last year, but “it actually feels great instead of using my voice, using my physicality, my presence, to be leading my team.”
“He was 10 months on the shelf,” Casamento said.“That’s hard for a kid that’s kind of got a laser focus on ‘I want to be a great football player’ and maybe have a shot at the league. So we’re happy for him that he was able to get cleared and come back and play and be with us again. And, I mean, it’s just happiness. It’s about family, it’s about love and family. We love each other. We’re just ecstatic that he’s here.”
Reuniting with Sherman, junior running back Antwain Littleton dons the red and black for the first time since transferring out of St. John’s following his freshman season in 2017. In Saturday’s game, he picked up a pair of touchdowns – one rushing, one receiving – while forcing a fumble on defense.
“It feels amazing to be back,” Littleton said. “We are going into practice every day – our main thing is executing and playing hard, that’s our thing about every game.”
Many of the rising senior players made commitments over the summer. Wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, who caught two touchdowns on Saturday, committed to Louisiana State University; Sherman committed to the University of Georgia; and wide receiver/defensive back Mordecai McDaniel committed to the University of Tennessee.
McDaniel, who saw success last winter as a track athlete, said: “Track helps tremendously with my athleticism, and I think that’s what makes me special.” He’s committed to both play football and run track as a Volunteer next year.
Sol-Jay Maiava threw three touchdowns to start his second year with the Cadets after committing to Brigham Young University over the summer. Casamento believes this second year should see an improvement from the Hawaiian transfer.
“After a year, he knows the offense better. So he’s more able to make his decisions faster, he’s more able to make the right decision,” Casamento said.
Littleton worked with three other running backs in the win, as they try to replace the hole filled by last year’s backs, Keilan Robinson ’19 (who is expected to start for Alabama this Saturday versus Duke) and Ron Cook, Jr. ’19.
Casamento praised his running backs for their preparation.
“I’ve got the four best running backs in the conference. I mean our running backs are lights out. Antwain, Colby [McDonald ’20], Jamar [Curtis ’22], and then the freshman Christian Rawlings. We love our running backs. They may be the strength of the team – defense and them.”
Running backs weren’t the only position to work through the depth chart, as four different quarterbacks took snaps throughout the game. “We’re trying to develop depth,” Casamento said. “We wanted to get a little bit of that so we could play these guys when it was close and see if they could hold up.”
While the offense rolled, the defense was able to post a shutout to open the season, with junior defensive back Xavier Terry making two interceptions in the first half.
“Had my chances today, first time starting,” Terry said after the game. “Just playing my football. I just gotta believe in myself every time I come onto the field.”
Sherman credits game film for the team’s shutout. “We forced them to pass and we got the secondary to back us up, so we didn’t have a lot of sacks today, we had a lot of QB pressures. You know that [doesn’t] go on the stat sheet; however, it does show something on film.”
The Cadets have a lot to overcome this year, with matchups against five currently ranked teams; and they’re seeking revenge for last year’s playoff loss to Gonzaga. But Sherman is confident in his team’s chances this season.
“It’s football. We do what we do best.”