Despite not having a single returning player who earned first- or second-team All-Academic Athletic Association honors from last season, Lowell football coach Danny Chan feels his team might surprise a few folks this season.
"I think the group we have now is physically stronger than last year's team," said Chan, whose team finished 4-6 overall and 3-3 in AAA play in 2012. "We had a lot of committed guys who took part in our weight-training program over the summer, and that always helps. We're on schedule for getting better, but you really won't know how good of a team you have until it goes up against live competition."
Chan knows this much: He'll be counting on standout seniors Alvin Norman and Zachary Rowson to lead the way. The two starting defensive ends have the ability to bring a consistent pass rush along with strong defense against the run. Rowson also plays tight end, which is one of Lowell's deepest positions. Noah Shaw, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior tight end, figures to see a few passes come his way.
The Cardinals will run a double-wing offense and Chan is hoping the inexperience they have at quarterback won't hurt them early in the season. Neither Kenny Li nor Antonio Hughes — the two will probably split time under center — took a single snap at quarterback last year.
"Kenny has had more time with the offense [in practice], but Antonio has a pretty good arm and is quite an athlete, so it's going to be interesting," Chan said. "Either way, I like both guys and feel good they'll both play with confidence."
Chan knows a quarterback's best friend is a solid running game, and to that end he's looking to tailback Dillon Easterling to pick up where he left off last year, when the 5-8, 170-pounder busted off some huge gains in the final couple games.
Even though Chan has a relatively inexperienced offensive line, he has liked what he has seen from the unit so far. Daniel Fong, a 5-10, 220-pound senior center, has the versatility to play any position along the offensive line.
The Cardinals look particularly strong defensively as they return their linebacking corps of Ray Phelps, Wen Liu and Jeffrey Liu (not related). The team's defensive leader, Phelps makes all the textbook plays and excels at stopping the run.
"Our defensive ends are strong and our linebackers are ready to blossom," Chan said. "Our secondary is young, but they're ready to rock and roll."