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McCarthy back under center for St. Joe’s

Mike McCarthy would not use the word nervous to describe how he’s feeling heading into his first football game in nearly 17 months.

“Just eager,” the 6-foot-5½, 222-pound senior quarterback for St. Joe’s said after Wednesday night’s practice. “It’s all excitement.”

The Marauders open the season at their Robert T. Scott Complex at 1 p.m. Saturday against Lockport. The nonleague showdown will be McCarthy’s first game action since Nov. 20, 2013, when St. Joe’s lost in the Monsignor Martin Association championship game to Canisius at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

McCarthy, who has a cannon for an arm, isn’t the only player in the area seeing his first game action since suffering season-ending ailments last year. Count Lake Shore quarterback Colin Fiutko among the returnees, as the senior leads the Eagles against visiting Hutch-Tech in a nonleaguer at 6:30 p.m. Friday night. It’ll be his first game action since Week Two last year.

That’s a long time but not an eternity, which is what it’s felt like for McCarthy, who suffered a broken tibia during a charity basketball game before the team’s first official practice of 2014.

He still attended every practice and lift session last season, even though he was on crutches. He added muscle to his upper body, but there was more to him being there than just lifting.

McCarthy found that being around his teammates helped him deal with the disappointment of not being able to play on game days.

“It was crushing not being out there,” said McCarthy, who passed for 1,000 yards and earned All-Catholic second team as a sophomore. “They helped me mentally when I was out and the coaching staff ... the coaches kept my head up as we were going through some rough times.”

That’s because no matter how hard St. Joe’s worked on game days, opponents knew the secret to beating the Marauders was to stack the box and dare them to go vertical. St. Joe’s reached the league semifinals but a 4-6 mark and inability to move the ball didn’t sit well with anyone in maroon and white.

“In high school it’s a game where you’re losing guys all the time because of graduation but when you lose them before the season, it stinks,” coach Dennis Gilbert said. “It was tough for him because he’s a hard working kid and he had a strong sophomore year for us.

“That being said, when it happened we just kind of had to retool and change our identity late, which was tough. I think teams figured us out by the middle of the season. … For anyone else it was a decent season. For us, it wasn’t around here. So we just reloaded. ... As a team we’re 100 percent stronger across the board.”

“Everyone has been working hard this offseason,” McCarthy said. “I think we’ll be all right.”

Also on Friday, Kenmore West visits Orchard Park in a rematch of last year’s Section VI Class AA semifinal – which OP rallied to win, 25-20. Former league rivals battle once again when Clarence pays a visit to Lancaster, and MMA runner-up Bishop Timon-St. Jude opens at Riverside.

Defending state champions Randolph (Class D), Jamestown (Class AA) and Canisius (Catholic) are in action, with Randolph visiting Franklinville/Ellicottville on Friday in a rematch of the Section VI final. On Saturday, Jamestown opens at Niagara Falls, while Canisius faces Albany-area power Shenendehowa at 5 p.m. in the Kickoff Classic at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.