By Rubin E. Grant
Since taking over as John Carroll Catholic’s head football coach in June, Will Mara said it’s been like “trying to drink water from a fire hydrant.”
“There’s been a lot coming at me,” Mara said. “But this is my dream job. I’m 100% blessed to be in this position. It still hasn’t sunk in that I’m the head coach. I’m super excited and the kids have been working hard.”
Mara has been involved with the Cavaliers’ football program for 15 years. He graduated in 2011 and in recent years has been head coach at the middle school and an assistant with the varsity program.
He replaces Logan Colafrancesco, who compiled a 6-34 record in four seasons. John Carroll hasn’t had a winning season since 2010. They went 6-4 that year and have won only 14 games since. The Cavs were 2-8 in 2020.
Mara believes the Cavs will be able to reverse the losing trend in time.
“All I’ve heard is you can’t win here, that you don’t want to come here, it’s where coaches go to kill their careers,” Mara said. “We have taken that as motivation. We have a dry-fit shirt under our jerseys that says, ‘Together We Rise’ on the front and ‘You Can’t Win Here’ on the back. We have it on the back because that’s behind us.
“We have stressed two words, adaptability and accountability, adapting to a new coaching staff and a new system and being accountable to each other. I think we’ve made big improvements in the last two months.”
John Carroll has moved from Class 5A, Region 4 to Region 5 this season and will compete against Carver-Birmingham, Cordova, Fairfield, Parker, Pleasant Grove, Ramsay and Wenonah.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the Cavaliers:
Senior Nicholas Sellers returns as the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback.
“He’s a great game manager,” Mara said. “He’s really embraced how we have set up the offense with the RPO (run-pass option). He’s an extension of myself on the field and has the ability to execute what we’re doing.”
Senior Jharod Johnson was expected to battle Sellers for the quarterback job but might not play this fall. If he doesn’t, freshman Carson McFadden will be the backup.
“He’s a super smart kid and can execute what we’re doing,” Mara said.
The Cavs have to replace the highly productive Jeremiah Gibbs, who used up his AHSAA eligibility and transferred to Banks Academy. Junior Aaron Mason returns from a knee injury and will take over as the primary running back. Senior Martice “Smitty” Smith also will contribute. When the Cavs need a bigger back, senior guard Tre Grissett will move to fullback.
Sophomore Seth Seidenfaden also will be used some out of the backfield.
“He’s kind of an H-back,” Mara said. “He’s a powerful runner and has great feet and hands.”
Junior Quad Harrison heads up the receiving corps.
“He’s an amazing leader and he’s the hardest worker on the team,” Mara said.
Senior Ethan Cull also returns. Two others in the mix are junior Christian Harper and senior J.T. Weisberg, who is playing for the first time.
The Cavs have to replace the majority of their offensive line, with only junior center Davis Deason returning as a starter.
“We’re going to have to blend our offensive and defensive linemen,” Mara said.
Grissett will play left guard and sophomore Jacob McMahon will play left tackle. Junior Greg Shunnarah will play right guard and junior Lawrence Johnson will play right tackle.
The Cavs have two nose guards who are completely opposite in size. Junior Tyler “Big T.” Johnson is 6-foot-4, 330 pounds.
“He’s a big kid who had some hip issues in the past, but he’s really worked hard,” Mara said.
The other is 5-foot-3, 160-pound senior Kameron Jackson.
“He’s feisty and very quick,” Mara said. “He gets in there and scraps.”
The defensive ends will rotate between senior Bryant Fleming, junior Bennett Fleming, Grissett, Lawrence Johnson and Shunnarah.
Senior Mitchell Walker will man one of the inside linebacker spots along with senior Pow Harrell. The outside linebackers are freshman Zach Archer, who also will play some at safety, and senior Kaleb Bryant.
Harrison will play free safety with senior Luke Harris at strong safety. The cornerbacks will be Harper and Smith.
Seidenfaden and senior Gabriel DeShazo are expected to handle the placekicking and punting duties.