WILMINGTON – Kyle Cathers has seen Salesianum win its last football game. And he has seen Salesianum lose its last football game.
Saturday will mark his last football game at Salesianum, and he has a clear outcome in mind.
“No senior year is complete without a championship,” Cathers said. “… I’ve done well. I’m very happy with our team, what we’ve gone through and how we’ve done this year. But we’ll find out how the senior year really is after this weekend.”
The answer will come a couple of hours after the 1 p.m. kickoff, as the top-seeded Sals (10-1) meet third-seeded Smyrna (11-1) in the DIAA Division I championship game at Delaware Stadium. More than 3,700 tickets have already been sold, and with intense interest on both sides the crowd could reach 10,000.
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Cathers has been a three-year starter, consistently wreaking havoc at defensive end. He also played some offensive tackle as a sophomore and center as a junior, and now he splits time with junior Josh Patrick at tight end.
“He’s had a great career for us,” Sallies coach Bill DiNardo said. “He came to us, he was like a big ol’ puppy dog as a sophomore. He ended up starting for us, had a great state championship game. He was one of our best players.”
Cathers had some growing to do, but his affable personality still shines through. Unless you’re across from him on the offensive line. He racked up 62 tackles and eight sacks and recovered four fumbles during the regular season.
“He’s a man. He’s plays like a man,” DiNardo said. “He plays very intense. He plays very sound football, and he can do a lot of things. He’s great on run support, he’s tremendous with pursuit, and he does a good job with his pass rush.”
He has upped his weight and his weightlifting every year while adding to his technical skills. The payoff was a scholarship offer from Coastal Carolina, one of the nation’s top FCS programs, and Cathers plans to sign his letter of intent in February.
“Not only have I been lifting a lot and getting stronger, but I’ve learned a lot of skill,” Cathers said. “Going to camps, working on footwork, handwork, getting off of guys. Football moving forward is just refining your skills and perfecting the small things.”
Those small things can turn into big things against Smyrna, as the Sals harshly discovered on Sept. 25. They defeated the Eagles 76-56 with an overwhelming offensive effort, but Smyrna shredded the Sals’ defense for more than 700 total yards.
“Our issue was tackling,” Cathers said. “We missed a lot of tackles. There were a lot of times we were on the screen, we had a hand on the guy who caught the screen pass, but we missed the tackle. Then he hits the seam, and he’s gone.”
A more sound effort will be critical Saturday, and Cathers will play an important role. He will often be chasing the play – run or pass.
“He pursues better than any defensive lineman I’ve ever coached,” said DiNardo, who has 257 career victories. “He makes as many plays away from him as he makes to him. He pursues like a linebacker.”
Cathers moved up to the varsity late in his freshman year, in time to see Sallies’ seniors feel the devastation of a 27-0 loss to Middletown in the D-I title game. The following year, he saw the euphoria his senior teammates experienced when they returned the favor with a 23-7 win over Middletown for the championship.
He remembers watching some of the Cavaliers after that game, studying their reactions.
“Everybody cries,” Cathers said. “You lose in the playoffs, you cry.”
He saw the tears from his senior teammates last year, when Sallies cut a 33-7 deficit to 33-27, but could get no closer against Sussex Tech in the first round of the playoffs.
So the only tears he wants to cry Saturday are tears of joy. That championship from his sophomore year was great, but Kyle Cathers wants another one.
“This would mean a lot,” he said. “To say I already have won, that’s something you never want to hear. No ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that.’ To go out on top your senior year, it’s everything.”
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ