By JOHN BASSETTI
Marcus McWilson doesn’t have a vision problem, but, right now, he’s seeing double — double sessions that is.
The start of summer two-a-days is Monday, when Cardinal Mooney — along with hundreds of schools statewide — get serious about their missions over the next several months.
For players like McWilson and Courtney Love, both verbally committed to Nebraska, mixing cleats with heat can make for some exhausting days prior to the return to classes.
But the misery is mitigated by the taste of a 2011 state championship that lingers in the mouths of McWilson and Love and the rest of the Cardinals, who have their sights set on another successful season.
“The season is coming quicker than I thought, but I’m afraid for it to end because I’ve loved my time at Mooney,” said McWilson, who will turn 18 on Aug. 9.
“Hopefully, we’re going to keep our heads on straight, not thinking that games will be handed to us. We know we have to work hard because everybody wants us to repeat — or because people expect us to — or because some hope we choke and lose. So we’ve got to go out and play our game and do what we have to do.”
In 2011, McWilson not only had nine interceptions as safety, but the 6-foot, 200-pound senior was also multidimensional as running back, receiver, kicker, punter, kick returner and punt returner.
“It was pretty balanced,” McWilson said of time in the various roles.
He’s especially adept at punting.
“It’s pretty good, but I used to play soccer, so it’s a natural thing to do.”
Playing several positions not only maximizes talent, but it enables younger players to split time with starters.
“It gives the older guys a break and the younger ones get to play themselves,” McWilson said of the “shared field” system.
While nonstarters get exposure, veterans get tested.
“Nobody’s position is ever handed to them, so starters have to prove themselves each week. Everybody has an opportunity [to show what they can do] if others don’t perform. You can’t be complacent and slack off.”
McWilson benefited from the shifting as a sophomore, when, after playing linebacker on the freshman team, he was deemed better suited elsewhere.
“Because we had so many linebackers, the coaches wanted me to move where I could help team. So I ended up getting moved to safety. I got to play and got some exposure and it’s a good feeling.”
McWilson recalled the play that preserved Mooney’s 21-14 lead before beating Springfield Shawnee for the Div. III state title last December at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.
Shawnee had a fourth down in the red zone (about 20 yards out) in the final 20 seconds. McWilson and Joe DeNiro were safeties, while Ryan Farragher and Kareem Ellis were cornerbacks who cut the field into cells about 12 yards apart.
“We’d rather give up the short pass than something deep,” McWilson said of his co-defenders, including linebackers Love, Anthony Dermotta and Cameron Devito.
“Everybody had their responsibilities and was where they were supposed to be,” McWilson said of Mooney expecting Shawnee to go through the air. “They had to throw unless they pulled off something magical.”
That’s when Farragher — close to the intended receiver — batted down a pass in the right back corner of the end zone.
McWilson said that when the Cardinals got the ball back with a few seconds left, Billy Stana, a player who was injured since Week 3 — in a symbolic gesture — came on the field as a fullback to block for quarterback P.J. Quinn, who took a knee to end the game.
“We were able to get him back on the field for the final play. Bringing him out with us and winning was a great feeling.”
McWilson will return at safety and offer to play anywhere on offense, if needed.
“Wherever I can help out,” he said. “Our coaches will move younger and older guys around to fit our scheme and help us win games.”
Love, who turns 18 in late September, returns as a linebacker, but he hopes to play more offense, maybe tight end.
“I’m definitely excited about the upcoming season and getting started. I can’t wait to get out with Marcus and the rest of the team and get a chance to get back to the state championship game.”
About the offensive role, he said: “I want to help the team and possibly play tight end a little. I think I’ve got a chance to do it.”
Minus the college-choice decision, Love, a cousin to former Ursuline standout Sean Penny, can concentrate on his last high school season.
“I definitely want to approach this year with the same goals: getting to the state championship game and setting an example for the younger guys to perform at the highest level possibly.”
Coach P.J. Fecko said that the carryover effect of the Div. III championship is minimal.
“Obviously, it’s a great accomplishment and something we’re very proud of; it’s the intention every school starts the season with. It’s part of our tradition, part of what makes our program so great, but, by the same token, it’s not going to help us this year. It’s a whole new set-up, as far as dynamics go, because it’s a whole new team, everybody else has a whole new team and people move on. So it really doesn’t help.”
However, he admitted that the experience factor is valuable.
“What our student-athletes gained in five weeks of playoff experience — even those who didn’t get in, but seeing what it takes to prepare and needs to be done to execute a run like that — is part of it.”
Mooney opens with defending Div. I state champion St. Ignatius.
It’s followed by Boardman, Harding, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s, Mentor Lake Catholic, St. Ed’s, Erie McDowell, Fitch and Ursuline.
“There are a lot of great teams on that schedule, not one that allows much room for error. I’d guess it’s probably one of the toughest in the whole state of Ohio.”