Melbourne Central Catholic lost some of the top offensive production in the county from last year’s team, including Brevard all-time passing leader Brandon Ziarno, who passed for 7,360 yards and 91 touchdowns in his varsity career. Graduated receivers Max Erdman, Kyle Taylor-Laird and Austin Perlman combined for 119 catches in 2014.
Yet, coach Mike Riazzi is convinced the Hustlers will be able to find a new niche this year with a fresh crop of team leaders.
“Brandon had gifts for one thing, and the two kids who are battling for the quarterback spot right now have different gifts,” Riazzi said. “We’re going to find out what their gifts are and get the most out of that, so we can apply it to our offense.”
The two players vying for the open QB spot are senior John Adler and sophomore Joaquin Collazo.
Safety and receiver Will Erdman — Max’s younger brother — is looking forward to his greater leadership role as a senior.
“Now that I’m a senior, I have to step up and be a leader for everyone,” Erdman said. Erdman made 41 catches for 647 yards last year.
Because of the heavy loss created by last year’s graduating class, the team chemistry could be radically different in the coming fall. The players have spent the off-season building a rapport with one another.
“At first we had a bunch of new faces, but this past weekend we had a sleepover here, and we worked on that. So I think we’ll be good when the season starts,” Erdman said.
Story continues below
Team captain and offensive lineman Jim O’Connell knows the impact his role could have on the rest of the team.
“As captain, you kind of dictate the attitude for the day. So if I come out having a bad day, the chemistry for the day could be bad,” O’Connell said.
This year’s seniors will also have to lead their teammates into a new district as MCC begins its first year in 6-3A after reclassification from 3-3A.
“There are two old rivals there, John Carroll Catholic, who we’ve played for over 50 years, and there’s also Holy Trinity, who has been a rival for 15 years,” Riazzi said.
Based on the workings of the FHSAA bracket, only one of the three will miss the regional playoffs. Regardless of the lineup, the Hustlers have a six-year postseason streak to maintain.
“We’re excited,” Riazzi said. “We think it’s going to be very competitive. We know the bullseye is on our back.”
Melbourne Central Catholic Hustlers
Head coach: Mike Riazzi (25th season)
2014 record: 9-2
Aug. 28 Father Lopez 7
Sept. 4 at Satellite 7
Sept. 18 at Holy Trinity 7
Oct. 2 at Cocoa Beach 7
Oct. 9 Lakeland Christian 7
Oct. 16 at John Carroll 7
Oct. 23 Union County 7
Oct. 30 Grace Academy 7
Nov. 6 at First Academy 7:30