If the season opener is any indication, the St. Mary's High School football team will be a force to be reckoned with this year.
The offense is effective in both running and passing the ball. "I try to stay as balanced as possible," St. Mary's coach Corey Bethany said.
The coach moved Lavel Harris from receiver to running back this season to keep that balance. "He had to step up," Bethany said. "He's a dynamic player. Wherever he is on the field, he'll try to make a play. He has the speed to do it from anywhere."
St. Mary's lost to Westminster Christian Academy in the opener last season 49-47 but defeated them 31-22 this time, Aug. 18. "Last year we weren't expected to win the game coming in, with everything new and just coming off a 1-9 season," Bethany said. "This year it was expected with our offense and how we performed well last year. It's a different challenge to overcome and surpass."
The first week of the season is a difficult one to prepare for, Bethany said regarding his team's slow start against Westminster, which jumped out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter and led 16-6 at half. "We had to get used to reading the keys and trying to see where they were trying to hit at and making plays," Bethany said.
His team made adjustments, but it wasn't easy, the Dragons coach said, because Westminster is "well-coached, they're well-disciplined and they are going to make you beat them. Any slip-ups and they would take advantage of it. We knew going in they would have a time-control offense and we'd have to win on first down to overcome it."
Against Westminster, quarterback Gus Dattoli threw three touchdown passes and completed 12 of 17 passes for 171 yards and no interceptions, adding 56 yards rushing. Harris scored three touchdowns, was the leading rusher with 67 yards on six carries, added 78 yards on three catches and had an interception return of 51 yards.
The game was an up-and-down battle, Harris said, but "together we stuck it out. Our coaches told us at halftime don't give up, just keep fighting."
His running backs coach, he said, asked him to "turn it up and not worry about anything else but running the ball."
Harris spread the credit. "We have one of the best quarterbacks out there. We work hard every day. We all play together, we fight together and don't give up on each other."
If that holds true throughout the season, "we'll end up on top of the world," he said.
In the season opener, contributions came from many sources. Receiver Antonio Burks had three receptions for 56 yards; Christian McMurray had two sacks and Darius Houston and Will Menendez each had one; Albert Huff had eight tackles and assisted on four others; Jalen Bethany caught a touchdown pass, had an interception, five solo tackles and helped on nine; Bryce Grossius kicked a field goal and four extra points.
The faith aspect is important to the athletes, Harris said. "When we pray, God stays with us. We got Him and He has us," he said.
His coach, Bethany, said he models himself after Mary, so he finds it easy to stress the ideals of a Marianist education to the players at the Catholic school. "That is what makes St. Mary's so special. The family atmosphere, everyone has a good time and we're so close-knit," he said.
The coaches use football to help students understand the importance of faith and education, things they can carry on after they leave high school. "We're raising young men here," Bethany said.
Don Burrus Field at Bishop DuBourg High School was dedicated Aug. 18 at halftime of the varsity football game vs. Lift For Life Academy.
The honorary banner on the scoreboard naming the field for the retired educator and coach was unveiled at the ceremony. Burrus was part of the staff at DuBourg for more than 50 years, teaching economics and swing dance and coaching football and basketball. He's also well-known at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in south St. Louis, where he was a longtime coach. In 2013, he and his wife, Elaine, were recognized for their community involvement with an honorary street designation in the Shaw neighborhood. In 2013, he was inducted into the St. Louis Metropolitan Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Burrus is a 1948 graduate of Christian Brothers College High School where he played football and basketball. RELATED ARTICLE(S):Back to School: St. Mary's aims to reach students' hearts and minds