By RYAN BUCK
Girard coach Nick Cochran is not only trying to rebuild his football program after a rare losing season, he is aiming to restore confidence.
A regional final appearance in 2011 preceded an unusual — at least for the Indians — 1-9 campaign in 2012.
“The kids, somehow you have to instill in them the tradition here and about the families that came through Girard and hopefully we wake up and the kids wake up and the families wake up here and start to do a better job of understanding what Girard football’s all about,” said Cochran, a former two-sport standout with the Indians.
One could say the blood of the program he has built runs red and black, a message he intends to convey.
“I’ve got five coaches on staff that are from here,” Cochran said. “Sometimes it’s a little more difficult. We have to understand that not all kids are the same. They’re not like us, but they have to realize that there’s a commitment here and we have to step up to that commitment.”
The 2013 season will provide an ideal setting.
“We’re still young,” said Cochran, “We have some seniors, but as far as playing time, we don’t have a lot of minutes behind us.”
Cochran is no stranger to opening up his offense. It might be the former Youngstown State quarterback in him trying to escape.
Senior Nick Cardiero, who threw for almost 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns in just seven games, is back.
In one of the more unique position changes of 2012, Cardiero took over after classmate Jordan Graziano moved over to wide receiver, where he excelled.
“Looking into the future, we thought it would be a better situation for us if we got some reps with another guy at quarterback. We thought Jordan could help us out a little more carrying the ball and be another threat for us out wide as a receiver.
“He’s been great for us. He hasn’t missed a day. Between his leadership and Nick Cardiero’s leadership, it will really help us out.”
James Cupan (778 rushing yards and 11 TDs in 2012) will get plenty of touches as well.
The Indians gave up 32 points per game last season.
No starters return on the defensive line, but Cupan, Jake Ryser and Treyvon Mills all return at linebacker. Vince Maderitz is the lone returning starter in the secondary, but Graziano will use his athleticism back there as well.
“You’ll see multiple looks defensively,” Cochran said. “We have four returning starters defensively. They’re at the skill positions.”
Even with a youthful outfit, Cochran wants to let a lighter, quicker defense run loose.
“I think overall, team speed should be pretty good defensively,” he said.
“It’s going to be the same guys on offense and defense,” Cochran said of his kick and punt units.
Junior Christian Bello and freshman John McLane will compete for kicking duties, an admitted weakness last season.
“We definitely have to improve in our kicking game,” Cochran said. “Field position hurt us last year and we can’t put that on our defense’s shoulders this year.”
When Cardiero and Graziano are locked in, there may not be a better quarterback-receiver tandem in the area.
In their lone win last season over LaBrae, Cardiero passed for 212 yards and two TDs and Graziano had six catches for 129 yards. They will need similar efforts to rebound from their worst season in recent memory.
Early games with Niles, Hubbard and Warren JFK will be big tests for a young defense. A prolific offense could help the inexperienced defenders grow.