Mat Zniewski knows the early scouting report on the St. Cloud Cathedral football team reads something like this:
Veteran quarterback, talent at the skill positions, and the offensive line …. well, that’s a question mark.
But that just serves to motivate the 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior, who returns as a starter at offensive tackle.
“People are going to underestimate us a little bit because we’re not as experienced and we don’t have the size other teams have,” Zniewski said. “But we know what we can do, and if the right guys step up, we can be pretty good.”
Zniewski and junior center John Peschel (5-10, 210) are the lone returners up front. Junior tackle Noah Hohler (6-0, 230) also checks in at over 200 pounds. But overall, the team knows it will be giving up some size up front to opposing defenses.
New head coach Andy Auger — who was the team’s defensive coordinator under the now retired Dean Taylor — is counting on that group to protect senior quarterback Jeff Fasching (6-0, 165), the standout pitcher on the Crusaders’ baseball team who threw for 1,716 yards and 22 touchdowns last season with just seven interceptions.
“Our line’s been doing pretty well so far,” Auger said. “We’ve simplified our protection schemes a little bit. Our goal is to protect Jeff because he’s such a big piece of our offense. And if all five of our guys are on the same page blocking, it will make a world of difference — whether we have size or not.”
Cathedral graduates its starting running backs from a year ago in Bryan Bowar and Bo Schmitz. But the team feels confident in seniors Nick Manthey (5-11, 180) and Thomas Imholte (5-8, 160) as they step into those roles.
Meanwhile, senior Brady Yoerg (6-0, 155) led the team in receiving with 40 catches for 640 yards and five touchdowns last season.
“I think we have some of the best skill position players around,” said Fasching, whose father Gary is the new head coach at St. John’s. “Nick is one of the fastest guys in the area. Thomas is a great running back/fullback and Brady is a great receiver. So our skill positions are our biggest strength.”
Defensively, the Crusaders have already been hit with a pair of key injuries. Linebacker Jake Gross (the team’s second-leading tackler last fall) and defensive lineman Hunter Austing (who started as a freshman in 2012) are both likely lost for the season.
But junior Tommy Auger (6-2, 190) — the son of the head coach who had 53 solo tackles and 45 assists last season — and Imholte — who had 26 solo tackles and 36 assists — both return. As does senior strong safety Brady Schmit (6-0, 160), who broke up nine passes.
“Losing those guys hurts,” Auger said of the loss of Gross and Austing. “It gives somebody else the opportunity to step up. But obviously those were two returning starters and it would be nice to have them.”
The biggest key for Cathedral is how the team will adjust to a new head coach.
And Fasching — who knows a thing or two about coaching transitions from watching his father assume the reigns from the legendary John Gagliardi with the Johnnies — said Auger (himself a former St. John’s standout) is doing pretty well so far.
“I get where Andy is at right now because I see what my Dad is going through and I see the thought process that he’s putting into it,” Fasching said. “(Auger) is in a similar position and he’s done a great job so far. Practices have been up-tempo and exciting. Guys are really responding to it.”