Most of the area’s high school football teams begin their 2014 regular season campaign on Friday night, but Melbourne Central Catholic will be the first to kick off tonight with a game at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex against Columbine (CO) at 6 p.m.
Columbine, a Class 5A school in Colorado, is a traditional power and likely will give MCC a stern test.
“We know that they are currently the No. 5 overall team in the entire state of Colorado — overall, every classification,” said MCC head coach Mike Riazzi. “They’ve won five state championships in 12 years. They have former NFL players. They currently have college players. They are a very strong program.”
“We see a strong defensive line and that’s what our offensive line is working on, too,” said MCC starting OG/DE Cameron Combs. “We see a lot of good athletes on their team.”
Riazzi believes after watching film that it’s a matchup of teams that will try to move the ball in two contrasting ways.
“They’re going to try to run the football right at us. We’re a little school, they’re a big school,” said Riazzi. “They’re going to try to go through us, we’re going to try to go over them.”
It’s also difficult to think about Columbine and not think about the horrific tragedy than unfolded at the school almost 15 years ago when two shooters killed 13 students and wounded more than 20 others.
But Riazzi believes that the successful football program is just one of the byproducts of what is a very strong community.
“We spoke briefly about the history and it was actually about how strong of a community they have now and what a strong school and athletic program that they have,” Riazzi said. “I know that their head coach, Andy Lowry, who was there at the time has been through a lot and you know they’ve persevered.”
For as much pedigree as Columbine brings into the game, MCC has a lot to boast about itself. It brings many of the pieces back from the top scoring offense in Class 3A last season, including senior quarterback Brandon Ziarno, which helped them to an undefeated regular season and Class 3A, District 3 Championship.
Now, the Hustlers face a new challenge as they’re the hunted rather than the hunters, so to speak, particularly within their district.
“It’s a different team. Graduated a lot of talented seniors and have a lot of new young faces on the team,” Riazzi said. “I think people were looking at First Academy to be a repeat champion and now they’re looking at us.”
But district competition is for later. Tonight, it’s time for MCC to show what it can do against one of the better high school football programs in the country.
“They’re excited. It’s a great group that put in a lot of hours this summer and looking forward to this game in Orlando and next week, Cocoa Beach,” Riazzi said.
Columbine (0-1) at Melbourne CC (0-0)
6 p.m., Disney Wide World of Sports
Last week: In preseason action, Melbourne Central Catholic defeated John I. Leonard, 45-16. Columbine lost its opener to Fountain-Fort Carson, 12-7.
Game fact: The Rebels were preseason No. 5 in Colorado’s largest class, 5A, while the Hustlers were fifth in Florida’s Class 3A. Columbine has had to replace a graduated QB and RBs who combined for more than 2,700 yards.
Implications: MCC upgraded its schedule this season to prepare for a desired preseason run, and the Rebels are the first test. It’s only a must win if the Hustlers want to have back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons.
Next game: The Hustlers will play a more familiar opponent, public school rival Cocoa Beach, while the Rebels return home to face Bear Creek of Lakewood, Colo.