Kevin Crompton – Sports Editor
Former Owls quarterback Ray Catapano has left head coach Tom Godek and the rest of the Southern football program with a season impacting decision.
With Catapano having taken his final snap last fall, spring practice for 2018 has offensive coordinator Chris Bergeski’s attention on the ongoing quarterback battle between three potential signal callers.
“Right now it’s been fun,” said Bergeski. “We’ve been carouseling all three of those guys around — Matt Sanzaro, Brian McNeill, and Matt Sapere.
Bergeski said that he was impressed with all three quarterbacks throughout the spring and has seen significant growth and improvement from each candidate. McNeill, however, has suffered a recent shoulder injury in practice which has put an end to his spring season.
Sapere is the youngest of the three quarterbacks. Last fall he came in as a true freshman and will be a sophomore for the 2018 season. While Bergeski said Sapere has “come a long way” from spring practice number one to practice 15, he also said he believes the two older guys have a slight leg up on the competition due to greater experience.
“The two older guys have done a really nice job of stepping in and filling some really big shoes that Ray [Catapano] left,” said Bergerski.
Despite the new talent that will be under center this season, both Godek and Bergeski said that the offense will remain similar to last season. The Owls will continue to run a variety of read option and designed quarterback run plays that Catapano often turned into six points for Southern in 2017.
“We’re going to continue to do all that stuff,” said Bergeski. “With [Sanzaro’s] legs and reading all different types of guys, what we’ve been doing for the past couple years here. Nothing has changed. We’re expecting big things from the quarterback’s arms and legs and just saying as multiple as possible, that’s our number one goal.”
Catapano said that on a number of occasions, people have asked him what the difference between he and Sanzaro is. However, there is more in common among the two athletes than there are differences.
“We’re both very athletic, we both have good arms, we both know what to do with the ball, we’re both smaller — I think he might be a little better at taking care of the ball than I was,” said Catapano.
In 2017, Catapano led the team in rushing touchdowns and was second to running back Eli Parks in rushing yards with a total of 653.
Godek said that despite the unsolidified QB position, a two-quarterback system is not something that they want to implement this season.
Sanzaro, a junior for the 2018 season, saw time as a holder last year but said he believes he is more than capable of taking over as the starting quarterback come week one.
“I’ve been here for a couple years now,” said Sanzaro. I’m pretty good with the system, I got the playbook down pat and I’m just hungry and eager to play.”
Sanzaro also commented on the similarities that he shares with Catapano.
“I learned a lot from Ray [Catapano] from his time here,” said Sanzaro. “In comparison to Ray we’re kind of similar players, we’re both pretty good athletes. We can throw the ball pretty well in the pocket, we can get outside of the pocket so like I said, I learned a lot from him and I’m just trying to have fun out here and try to do what I can do.”
Sanzaro said he’s been around football his whole life and growing up in a “football household” you come to love the game.
“My dad played in college all three of my uncles played in college,” said Sanzaro. “My dad was an All-American in Providence when they still had a program so I’ve just been surrounded by it since I came out of the womb.”
Sanzaro, however, is the first quarterback in this family.
“Everybody else they played linebacker [or] tight end,” he said. “They’re all big boys so they were in the trenches and I’m the first quarterback. I don’t know really where it came from; I just decided at a young age that I wanted to play quarterback.”
Sanzaro said that playing football at the collegiate level is like a full-time job.
“Really to play any sport it’s pretty taxing on your body mentally and physically,” he said. “You really got to love it, you have to have a drive for it every day. [I love] the feeling walking out of that tunnel and hearing all the people screaming and stuff and just being a team player and helping your team succeed. Ultimately that’s any team’s goal to win a championship or a conference championship.”
Bergeski said that the main thing the three young quarterbacks need to learn and work on is remaining comfortable in the pocket.
“When that pass rush is coming here you can get some hot feet,” said Bergeski. “Just staying consistent with our technique and fundamentals inside the pocket and just getting the ball out as fast as we can. That’s something I’ve preached since day one: how fast you can get the ball out of your hands.”
Sanzaro said that he thinks the Southern football team has a good chance at winning a championship this upcoming season.
“[The team chemistry] is unbelievable. It’s something I haven’t felt since being here,” said Sanzaro. “I think the guys realize we got something special.”
Photo Credit: August Pelliccio
Video: Kevin Crompton