Regular season success in football is not determined by what a team does in 7-on-7 summer tournaments, but after losing their last three regular season district games in 2011, the Cardinal Ritter Lions could use any positive signs when they officially open training camp on Aug.6.
The Lions recently captured the Demetrius Johnson Charitable Foundation’s 7-on-7 tournament in Forest Park, beating University City in the championship game. The Lions, a private Catholic school in the inner-city and a member of the Archdiocese Athletic Association (AAA) conference, competed in the tourney against University City and Normandy, which are just outside the city limits and the entire Public High League teams, which are in the city.
The tournament was sponsored by Johnson, a former Mizzou and Detroit Lions star defensive back who is a product of the old McKinley High in the PHL.Vashon, Roosevelt and Gateway Tech were considered the leading contenders from the PHL to win the tournament.
“The kids are gaining a lot of confidence and experience,” said Lions coach Rolando Merriweather. “We have been to a lot of tournaments and the kids are getting older and better.”
But Merriweather also realizes 7-on-7 games exclude the linemen and line play, which was where his Lions were outsized and outmanned last season.
“We know we’ve got to improve in our line play,” said Merriweather. “In our conference the top teams like St. Dominic average about 260, 270 pounds on the lines. Our varsity line should have more size this year, though.”
Indeed, Ritter has at least two incoming sophomores up from the junior varsity who will have the girth, in Reginald Austin (6-0,290) and Calvin Brown (6-0,270), while the others fall way below that weight: Demetrice Fisher (6-0, 250 junior), Jessie Gurley (5-8,230 senior), Dontral Flowers (6-0,200, junior) and Jervonta Jones (6-3,195 junior). The combination of power and finesse should make the Lions have much more balanced offensive attack.
But despite last year’s size disadvantage, the Lions managed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher in returning junior Terence Hudspeth (1,035 yards on just 89 carries, good for an 11.6 average) and returning senior Xavier Jordan (764 yards rushing),. On the other hand, the passing game was virtually non-existent: Ritter had no 100-yard plus passing games from the quarterback positions, a stark contrast to some teams where signal-callers may routinely produce twice or three times that amount of yardage in a game.
At the same time, the Lions graduated their two of their most productive defenders in the front seven in lineman Titus Alexander ( club highs with75 stops and 11 quarterback sacks) and linebacker Maurice Anderson. So the Lions will have challenges beyond the passing game and youth on the line.
But one skill-position player poised for a potential breakout campaign could be senior receiver Kyle Harbour (6-3,200) who has been a standout after in 7-on-7 competitions this summer. But again, it has to be tempered by the fact that it’s not 11-man tackle football-yet.
“The big thing we talk about at Ritter is confidence,” said Merriweather. “They had a bunch of faith.”
After going into district play with a 5-2 mark last year, the Lions dropped their final three regular season games to finish 5-5 and miss the playoffs. The Lions had posted a 9-3 record and beat Priory 18-10 in the first-round of the playoffs before losing to powerful John Burroughs 28-19 in the Missouri Class 3 sectionals in 2010, the same year Burroughs went on to finish as state runnerup.