Toppers greeted by Wisconsin native Doug Free

Catholic Central quarterback Todd Suchomel has thrown for 184 yards in four games this season. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

The Catholic Central football players enjoyed a rare treat Tuesday afternoon at the St. Mary’s practice field.

Lincoln Street buzzed with whispers of a guest speaker, and the school’s principal was on hand.

It wasn’t your average motivational speaker, former player or friend of a coach.

In fact, it was someone who knows a thing or two about the game of football, and now that his playing days are over, he’s giving back in a big way.

Doug Free is a Manitowoc native and stands a good 6-foot-6. He also weighs 323 pounds.

The mammoth presence took his football skills to the highest level, forging a long career in the National Football League before retiring after the 2016 season.

Now 34, Free spoke for about 15 minutes to the curious, awe-stricken Toppers as they knelt after a long practice in unseasonably warm temperatures.

“Someone at the school reached out, and he said he’d be more than willing to talk to the kids,” Catholic Central head coach Tom Aldrich said Tuesday. “He did a great job, and the kids had some good questions. He answered them honestly and frankly, it was a great experience for our kids.”

Aldrich said 20 years ago his college roommate, Rick Kare, a former Washington Redskins offensive lineman, spoke to the Toppers.

“Any time these kids can see someone that’s achieved a pinnacle of success, right now that’s in their dream boat,” Aldrich said.

“You never know. There’s a lot of work that goes into it.”


Toppers learning to win

Catholic Central, which hadn’t won since 2016 before a Week 1 win back in August, is learning how to win varsity football games.

Up 29-13 last Friday in Somers at Shoreland Lutheran High School, the Pacers scored on a long fumble recovery touchdown and followed it up with a defensive stand.

Clinging to a 29-25 lead, the Toppers stepped up.

It came down to a last-second play, and Central survived, evening its record both overall and in the Metro Classic Conference (2-2, 1-1 MCC).

“Give Shoreland credit, they fought and came back,” Aldrich said. “They got going, and we were trying to utilize the clock, which makes it harder to run the ball.”

“Thankfully, our kids came up with a big play when we needed to.”

Aldrich said even in losses this season, the Toppers have continued to compete and have felt good about their efforts.

After quarterback Todd Suchomel found Brandon Pum for a 19-yard touchdown to open the scoring, Pum hit David Doerflinger for a two-point pass and an 8-0 lead.

Payton Meinholz and Suchomel added short scoring runs, extending the lead to 22-13 in the third quarter.

By the fourth, it was Cade Dirksmeyer’s turn.

The bruising back, who led the Toppers with 114 rushing yards on 12 carries, slammed home another touchdown, and the Toppers seemed in control up 29-13.


Shoreland not done

But pesky Shoreland scored on its next possession, and a phantom fumble, one where the football never touched the ground, allowed the Pacers a 50-yard touchdown return to intensify the comeback dream, at 29-25 Toppers.

Meinholz added 95 yards on 27 carries.

Reid Muellenbach contributed 55.

Defensively, Doug Januszewski had himself a whale of a ball game.

The senior racked up 5.5 tackles and three were behind the line of scrimmage.

Tristan Welka, Doerflinger and Chas Miles each added at least four tackles.

On Saturday afternoon, the Toppers travel to St. Thomas More for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

“I feel good about the guys right now,” Aldrich said. “They’re starting to believe in us as a staff.”

“The scheme doesn’t matter, it’s about getting the kids to buy in. They’re buying in. But we can’t afford to be overconfident. Their confidence is growing, and I think they’ll come ready to play.”

Thomas More is winless this season (0-4, 0-2 MCC), including a 70-0 defeat to Racine St. Cat’s.

With rumors that Kenosha St. Joe’s may have to forfeit its season due to low numbers, which would result in a gift win for the Toppers, suddenly things are looking overwhelmingly positive.

Though Greendale Martin Luther is state-ranked and will be a steep challenge, the Toppers could have a playoff berth locked up with a win over Thomas More and either Racine Lutheran (4-1, 2-1 MCC) or Dominican (3-1, 1-1).



– Stay tuned Friday night to Mike Ramczyk on Twitter (@mikeramczyk17), along with Southeast Wisconsin Preps Report (@PrepsReport) for all the latest football scores