PLAYERS TO WATCH
DE Pat Muldoon (6-4, 255, Sr.), ILB Luke Kuechly (6-3, 215, Sr.), QB Luke Massa (6-5, 200, Jr.), OL Matt James (6-7, 290, Jr.), RB Connor Earley (5-11, 195, Sr.)
2007 Record: 15-0, State champions
It has been quite a four-year run at St. X for head coach Steve Specht. Since taking the Bombers’ head coaching job in 2004, his teams have combined to post a 51-3 record with two 15-0 state championship seasons.
Specht is a 1986 graduate of St. X, where he was a team captain. He spent eight years as a St. X assistant before replacing longtime coach Steve Rasso in 2004.
Last year, St. X plowed through Greater Catholic League rival Cincinnati Elder (45-14), Centerville (31-6), Cincinnati Colerain (29-14), Dublin Coffman (10-7) and finally Mentor (27-0) in the playoffs to claim the title.
But winning a third title in four years could be difficult. St. X has just two starters back on each side of the ball.
“I don’t think the expectations ever change,” Specht said. “We go into every year with the same focus – we want to win in Week 1. Then, we want to win our league. We know if we win the GCL South we will get into the playoffs.
“We like our kids to be challenged. You never graduate tradition. We had a good senior class last year and we are usually a senior-dominated team.”
The Bombers have won four straight GCL South titles. Specht said the lack of experience does not bother him.
“On our 2005 team, we only brought back four starters on our whole team,” he said. “The year before we were 11-1. We are a senior-dominated team year in and year out. These kids challenge themselves to get better. We think we can win with seniors.”
One key senior is Muldoon, who had scholarship offers from Notre Dame and Ohio State. Muldoon is rated as Ohio’s No. 26 senior prospect, according to Ohio High magazine. He had 10 sacks and 13 tackles-for-loss in 2006 and 12 sacks and 16 tackles-for-loss in 2007.
“He’s explosive,” Specht said. “His first step is as explosive and as quick as anybody I have ever coached at this level. I know the college coaches like him because he is big enough to play inside and quick enough to play outside. He will be able to do a lot of different things depending on what team or college he selects.
“He can do a lot of things and he has a great motor. He’s a 4.0 GPA kid and he plays with high energy. He never stops. He’s just a great kid.”
Muldoon is not the only major college prospect at St. X. Specht noted that Kuechly, a nice sized inside linebacker, has also “been offered by just about everybody. He can really run.”
Another key senior is Earley, who sat behind standout Darius Ashley at tailback.
“He is track fast,” Specht said of Earley. “Unfortunately for him, he was playing behind four seniors last year. One of them is now at Louisville and another is at UC. He has been biding his time. We think he is going to open some eyes this year.”
Massa, a junior, got some spot duty at quarterback last year and threw for 375 yards and five touchdowns against just one interception.
“We think Luke is going to be a great one,” Specht said. “He started our last seven games after our senior starter suffered a broken knee. He has a chance to be a great, great quarterback here before he is done.”
St. X has a handful of receivers who could contribute, including Drew Grombala, Trevor Hoedker and Ian Cummins.
“Those kids are all going to be seniors,” Specht said. “Drew is a little guy at 5-9, 160, but he can run. He played a bunch last year. Those guys have an opportunity to step in and play for us.”
The schedule, as always for St. X, is a meat grinder. The Bombers open against their Cincinnati-area nemesis, Colerain. The teams combine for three of the last four state championships with Colerain’s 2004 title and St. X’s wins in 2005 and 2007.
St. X took two wins over Colerain en route to the state title in 2005. Colerain then reached the state final four with a regional final win in 2006. St. X returned that favor with its regional final win last November.
The teams will again meet on neutral ground at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium as the featured game in the Crosstown Showdown event on Aug. 22.
“My biggest issue with that game is that we are playing one of the top teams in Region 4 and we will each find out real fast where we are and what we need to work on,” Specht said. “That first game will expose some flaws and I think you make the most improvement from week 1 to week 2. To open with a team of that caliber, it shows you very quickly. I know the kids are excited about it. That’s what high school football is supposed to be about. It should be a great game for our city.”
The next four weeks will feature opponents from four different states as St. X meets Prattville, Ala., (a two-time state champion) in the Kirk Herbstreit Ohio vs. USA Challenge before hosting Indianapolis Cathedral and Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep and visiting Louisville (Ky.) Trinity. Trinity, led by Ohio State verbal LB Jordan Whiting, won a state title last year.
“Our schedule covers five states,” Specht said. “Because of the (OHSAA playoff points system), we do not get to play a lot of local games. When was the last time a team played teams from five states?”
Of course, the focus of any season for St. X is the Greater Catholic League and the battles with rivals Elder, LaSalle and Moeller. Specht knows each of those tradition-rich schools will be looking to end the Bombers’ run at the top of the GCL South.
“Every year, we want to compete for a shot at the GCL South championship,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate the last few years to win the title. In any given year, any of the four schools can win the title.
“We know Elder, Moeller and LaSalle will be looking to knock us off. We are the reigning GCL champions. But the perspective never changes. We don’t want to rest on our laurels. Our goal is just to prepare every day and work on how we can get better.”
Aug. 22 vs. Cincinnati Colerain, 8 p.m. (Crosstown Showdown at University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium)
Aug. 30 vs. Prattville, Ala., 8 p.m. (Kirk Herbstreit Ohio vs. USA Challenge at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium)
Sept. 5 Indianapolis Cathedral
Sept. 13 Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep, 2 p.m.
Sept. 19 at Louisville (Ky.) Trinity
Sept. 26 at Cincinnati Elder
Oct. 3 at Cincinnati LaSalle
Oct. 11 at Lakewood St. Edward, 2 p.m.
Oct. 18 Cleveland St. Ignatius, 2 p.m.
Oct. 24 Cincinnati Moeller