By Joe Scalzo
Maybe the strangest thing about Cardinal Mooney going 3-6 last season — the Cardinals’ second-worst season in their 55-year history and just their fifth losing season — was this: No one saw it coming.
Mooney had just won its eighth state championship and was returning two BCS recruits in Marcus McWilson (Kentucky) and Courtney Love (Nebraska). But after drubbing Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, the eventual Divison III state champions, in Week 4, Mooney dropped four of its last five games.
The problem wasn’t talent. It was leadership.
“Last year we didn’t really have much leadership, out of everybody, not just the senior class,” senior RB/DB Mark Handel said. “This whole offseason, we’ve been coming together as a team and hopefully that shows up on the field.”
Veteran coach P.J. Fecko has never put much stock in the carryover effect, so it wasn’t surprising when he shrugged off 2012 by saying, “I think you act like you do every year because it’s a new year, whether you’re coming off a state championship or not.
“It’s a new team, a new set of seniors. It makes no difference what happened the previous year other than maybe the experience you have coming back.”
After splitting time with Denver Martin last year, junior Jon Saadey (500 yards passing in 2012) has solidified himself at quarterback. The speedy Handel will shift over to running back from wide receiver to help replace the departed McWilson and Justus Ellis-Moore. C.J. Amill and Benji Roberts will also see time, while fullbacks Anthony Dermotta and Christian Lowery return.
Seniors Pat Kelty and Nick Bilas return up front but the Cardinals will be green at wideout.
Defensively, Bilas (DL) and Dermotta (LB) return, as do DBs Handel, Martin and Joe Kleeh.
“We have some guys with game experience but there’s a whole new group of people competing for a lot of spots, which makes it exciting,” Fecko said.
At kicker, junior Zac Kennedy returns; he will also battle Martin for punting duties.
Mooney’s schedule is typically treacherous — another big reason for the 2012 slide — with games against SVSM, Mentor Lake Catholic, Lakewood St. Edward, Ursuline and Fitch. All five made the Ohio playoffs last season.
“It’s a difficult schedule, as usual, but the guys know that going in,” Fecko said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on. We play outstanding people not just in this state but across other states.”
The last time Mooney had a losing season was 2001 when the Cardinals went 0-10. Two years later they were back in the playoffs, making the postseason nine straight years while winning four state titles and finishing second two other times.
That tradition explains why few people expect the Cardinals to have another losing season.
“We have to put last year behind us and move on, but at the same time, it sits in your stomach,” Dermotta said. “You remember that sickening feeling.
“Last year we just didn’t play Mooney football. We didn’t come out and play. We can’t let that happen again.”