2020 was both a season to remember and one to build on for Castle, and the maturing Knights will look to ride the momentum of a semi-state appearance into 2021.
There's not a whole lot of talking going on at Castle's camp this year. There doesn't need to be. After last season's uneven start, the young knights ignited for five straight victories. And despite late season setbacks, head coach Doug Hurt's squad rode herd over the competition in the 5-A playoffs, taking home sectional and regional titles.
"We were a hard-working team," says Castle junior running back Peyton Guerzini. "We didn't focus on what anyone else was saying. We just kind of worked through it and just focused on the next game."
"We were young last year and we got better as the season rolled on," says Hurt. "So we've got to parlay that into a good start to the 2021 season."
"It was a great experience," says Castle senior strong safety Evan Reff. "I love the team we had last year. We had some great seniors, some great players. I miss those guys, but I'm ready to move on to next year. Get ready."
And there's plenty to move on with. On offense, the Knights bring back Cam Tilly at quarterback. The junior signal caller has only improved since first getting under center two years ago, and with talented receivers like juniors Weston Aigner and Brayden Bishop and senior Evan Pritchard, Castle's passing game should provide plenty of pyrotechnics on Friday nights. Balancing out the offense will be a ground game which was second to none a year ago, as running back Peyton Guerzini was a man among boys, rolling up more than 15-hundred yards and 15 touchdowns on 246 carries.
"We're pretty excited," says Guerzini. "I think we're going to take a step forward in all three phases in terms of the offensive line, the receiving corps, and then really our backfield. We're going to make strides in all those areas."
"Excited about Tilly coming back," says Hurt, "that's what everybody wants to talk about. But I really think our receiving corps is going to be light years ahead of where we were last year and I think we have a really chance to be vastly improved from a year ago, as well."
"It's explosive," says Reff. "It's really fun to watch. We're passing more. Coming off last year, the run game, running a lot last year, this year we should be a lot more fun. The offense is looking really good. Definitely getting balanced on running and passing. Looks to be explosive. I can't wait to watch them play."
While the offense is eye-catching, the castle defense was both eye and pad-popping in 2020. The knights held opponents to just six points per contest in the regular season. And while it's lost a lot up front, with the graduation of five linemen, most of the linebackers and defensive backs return, led by senior strong safety Evan Reff.
"We have some great guys coming back," says Reff. "The good thing is that the guys coming back are also great leaders. The young guys are really receptive of that. Just coaching them up, making them better, getting better every day, be a great team, a great defense."
"I think last year, we were probably the best defense that's ever walked through the halls of Castle High School," says Hurt. "I'm biased, but I also played on a team that was pretty good in '94, and I think our defense was better this past season. We lose some defensive lineman, but we still have some major fixtures coming back. Probably our biggest leader, our most dynamic player is Evan Reff, our strong safety. We've got Tae Hughes back at linebacker. Aaron Watson back at linebacker. We've got John Purdy, who was a sophomore a year ago, who moved from corner to mike linebacker. And then we've got a young, hungry defensive line that's coming up with some senior guys that didn't get a chance to play. I think the standard has been set, we've been on the rise defensively for quite some time. And we've got to try to uphold that tradition."
The Knights open the season August 20th at home against North.