For the seventh time in school history, Cardinal Mooney captured a state championship in 2009.
Many of those superstars off that terrific title team have graduated leaving a few holes on head coach P.J. Fecko’s roster. This is Mooney, however, where the program never rebuilds, it simply reloads. That is why back-to-back Division III titles for an eighth championship trophy in not hoped for at the school, it is expected.
Once that final gun sounded in Stark County last December and Mooney’s 35-7 drubbing of St. Francis DeSales in the finals was complete, coach Fecko and his staff began preparing for the 2010 season. The Cardinals did indeed lose some key components of its championship team including four first team All-Ohio selections in running back Braylon Heard, offensive lineman Zach Larson, linebacker Mark Brandenstein and defensive back Ray Vinopal. Add to that group the defection of quarterback Alex Zordich and it easy to see that coach Fecko will have his work cut out for him this season.
Twenty-two seniors will return in 2010, but only five of that group were starters in the championship game 10 months ago. That is why Fecko has been looking for more of his seniors to step up and take on a leadership role in 2010. Retooling the offensive line may be Mooney’s biggest obstacle both literally and physically. Five linemen have graduated from last year’s bunch, which means Fecko may have to pay extra attention to the offensive line battle this summer. Deciding on a cohesive unit up front will be important because the Cardinals will have to break in an inexperienced signal caller this season. Senior Kevin McGuire looks to be the man behind center when Mooney starts the regular season, but he will be pushed by athletic sophomore Courtney Love who will have certainly reached nirvana if he gets many varsity reps. There is no lack of experience at the running back position where seniors Charlie Brown and Carmen Leonelli return. Replicating Heard’s nearly 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns may be hard for one of those fantastic backs to do individually, but the two should combine to form a dynamic duo. Exciting junior rusher Ricki Williams will also be in the mix to evoke cheers of “run Ricki run” from Mooney Nation.
While the offensive line is in a transitional period, Mooney’s defensive front is a solid as ever. Three of the front four return from the championship clan giving the Cardinals a sense of security that most high school teams do not have. Chris DeChellis, Mike Rossi and Clarence Scott will all come back to start along the defensive line which should make moving the ball against Mooney miserable for opponents. Scott showed his domination by getting two quarterback sacks in last year’s final.
Also making a big play in that championship game is returning kicker/punter A.J. Fox. As if Mooney didn’t have enough weapons at the skill positions, Fox brings an added dimension to the kicking game that is second to none. Who will ever forget the great play Fox made on a botched punt snap against DeSales that he turned into a 67-yard punt? Fox’s punting ability allows the Cardinals’ defense to seemingly always start in favorable field position and his field goal kicking ability allows Fecko to not hesitate in going for three on those rare occasions when his offense falters in the Red Zone.
Mooney will start defense of its state crown on Aug. 27 at Pickerington North. The Cards will enter that contest winners of 16 straight games. On Sept. 3, Mooney hosts Boardman in a rematch of one of the most anticipated games of 2009’s regular season which Mooney escaped, 23-17. Other notable opponents in 2010 are Cleveland Lakewood St. Edward, another rematch with DeSales, Cleveland Benedictine, Akron St. Vincent/St. Mary and a visit from state powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller. Of course, the traditional parochial school showdown with archrival Ursuline will also be played at Stambaugh Stadium on Oct. 22 with the Irish acting as the home team.
In prior chats, coach Fecko has mentioned that last season is over and it is time to move on, but that these current Cardinals know what it takes to get back to that championship level. This Mooney team is expected to pick up right where its champion brothers have left off. That is certainly a lot of pressure to put on this new wave of Cardinal players, but why should anyone doubt that the wins will not keep piling up. It will also be surprising if the Cardinals don’t make playoff appearance number 24 meaning that championship number 8 in school history may not be far behind.