Hope abounds as pads debut
STRUTHERS -- Rick McFadden stood on the sidelines at Wildcat Stadium Tuesday taking in the football scrimmage between Struthers and Mooney.
The former Struthers and Ohio State quarterback was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. When was the last time he wasn't wearing pads in August?
"Wow, it's been awhile," he said. "A long time ago."
McFadden started playing football when he was 8. By the time he graduated in 2000, he had been All-Ohio in football and basketball.
He went to Ohio State and sat his first two seasons behind the quarterback logjam of Steve Bellisari, Craig Krenzel and Scott McMullen.
McFadden traveled with the team to Tampa for the Outback Bowl last January. The morning after, he talked to a basketball coach from Akron about transferring. By sundown, he had decided to leave.
"I went down there to play," he said. "It didn't work out and I moved on. I still have friends down there that I talk to every once in awhile."
And he keeps an eye on his alma mater. The Wildcats have just eight seniors this year and will play a lot of underclassmen -- including three freshman, Eric Anderson, Mike Duponty and Justin Penson.
The youth movement isn't out of necessity.
"They're just good," Struthers coach Gary Zetts said. "They dominated on the lower levels. For the first time, we invited the freshmen to work out with us. They showed up."
Problem is, young teams tend to struggle in the opening weeks. Mooney looked much better for the first part of Tuesday's scrimmage, scoring two touchdowns in its first three possessions.
The Cardinals' defense held Struthers without a first down until its sixth possession and the Wildcats did not score until their last offensive play -- which came on their 12th possession.
"I was pleased with our enthusiasm and aggressiveness," Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said. "We made some mistakes, but this is not about scoring or winning or losing. It's about seeing what the guys can do."
The Cardinals are coming off their worst season in school history. They went 1-9 thanks to a forfeit win over Ursuline, but didn't win a game on the field.
Mooney's players even wear shirts that read "0-10, never again."
"We felt that the first step to erasing last year was to become more aggressive and more enthusiastic," Fecko said. "That wasn't there last year."
Good plan. If Mooney is going to do better, they first have to think they can do better.
The Cardinals have more than 65 varsity players this year, up from about 45 last season.
"We have a large number in all three classes coming up, so that helps," Fecko said. "It's too early to tell what will happen. The season will tell us that. But we're getting back on track."
The Wildcats will also get better. Struthers must replace guys like Nick Leiter and Jim Tabak. It will take a few weeks for the team to mesh.
"We played a lot of kids who didn't have game experience," Zetts said. "The encouraging thing was that we did move the ball after the first few possessions. The discouraging thing was we didn't hit. We weren't gang tackling and the effort I wanted to see wasn't there."
Struthers has more size than they did on last year's team, which went 5-5 and 2-3 in the Metro Athletic Conference. Senior lineman Justin Decker (6-4, 280) and senior running back/linebacker Nick DeMart each made second team All-MAC last year.
Mooney and Struthers are long shots to win league titles. Ursuline and Warren Harding are the early favorites in the Steel Valley Conference. Zetts thinks Canfield has the early edge in the MAC.
But if things go right, either team could sneak into the playoffs.
After all, this is August. And in August, hope abounds.
XJoe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.