On Saturday, Aug. 25 the Cardinal Mooney football team will open defense of its eighth state championship.
That season-starting Saturday night game will be like no other in recent regular season history. Mooney will be playing in the 44th Charity Game sponsored by the Cleveland Browns' Foundation against state powerhouse and defending Division I champion Cleveland St. Ignatius. The contest will take place at Cleveland Browns' Stadium, which is a titanic venue befitting two schools who have combined to win 19 Ohio state championships.
The 2012 schedule following the clash with St. Ignatius isn't exactly a walk through the park for the Cardinals either. Mooney will host Boardman, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Lakewood St. Edward's and Erie McDowell and take to the road to play such stalwarts as Warren Harding, Mentor Lake Catholic and Fitch. Factor in the "road" game against archrival Ursuline (played at Youngstown State University) and one can see why getting back to the title tilt may be an exhausting task for head coach P.J. Fecko's boys.
"(Playing a tough schedule) is a big part of our success," said Fecko recently. "We were excited to win (the state championship) last year, but it's in the past. Nothing from last year will help us this season. We have a new set of players and a new schedule. Everything is brand new."
The newest member of Mooney's team will be the person calling the signals on offense. Fecko has the unenviable duty this year of replacing starting quarterback and team leader P.J. Quinn. The quarterback P.J. made the head coach P.J. very pleased last season by managing the offense well and completing 60 percent of his passes.
Returning letterman Denver Martin is one player who has a chance to come away with the quarterback position, but he is as green as the artificial grass Mooney plays on at Stambaugh Stadium. Martin threw just one pass last season. Regardless of the inexperience of Martin and the rest of his quarterbacking mates, Fecko is positive that someone will step forward and command control of his offense.
"We have five potential guys who could win the starting (quarterback) role," said Fecko.
The four-time state championship winning coach added that he knows what type of person will end up behind center.
"That guy will have to have all the intangibles," stated Fecko. "He will have leadership, running ability, throwing ability and be durable."
Whoever lines up at quarterback will probably stay durable too because one strength of the 2012 Cardinals is the offensive line. Another positive area of the offense are the number of returnees at the skill positions. Having a veteran group surrounding the young signal caller may signal an easy transition for the Cardinals' offense.
"That will be a positive for the new quarterback for sure," Fecko insisted. "They will keep it together until the quarterback is comfortable."
It will also be a positive for the QB to turn around and hand the ball off to one of three letter-winning great running backs in the Cardinals' stable. Justus Ellis-Moore had 838 yards a season ago and scored nine touchdowns and should be the man counted on to replace workhorse back Roosevelt Griffin and his 1,500-plus yards and 17 scores. Junior Mark Handel had only 22 caries in 2011, but made the most of those totes with 122 yards. Then there is "mister everything" in the Cardinals' backfield Marcus McWilson. The speedy six-foot, 195-pound senior had an electrifying 8 yards per carry in '11 and scored 10 total touchdowns. He was also a threat receiving with 155 yards. On defense, the dependable defensive back nabbed six interceptions and was as close as one could be to a shutdown DB. Just for good measure McWilson also acted as Mooney's kick returner, punt returner and team punter.
Senior letter winning receiver Quincy Jones is also back this season. Jones made beautiful music whenever a ball was tossed his way last year averaging 19 yards per catch and snaring four scores.
Stopping opponents from scoring should be another reason the Cardinals have a great shot at making the playoffs once again. It's easy to play great defense when your anchor is six-foot, two-inch, 230-pound senior letter winner Courtney Love. Love was hated by all of Mooney's opponents last season because he led the team in both tackles and tackles for loss. Those stats helped Love earn the Division III Co-Defensive Player of the year award. With future Nebraska Cornhuskers Love up front and McWilson in the backfield, it will be just as fun to watch the Cardinals when they don't have the ball as it will be when they are on offense.
The other returning letter earners on this year's roster are Kareem Ellis, Marlan Everson, Anthony Dermotta, Marcus Penza, C.J. Bias, Chris Brandenstein, Aaron Fonderlin, Jalen Jennings, Bob Ballone, Joe Decapita, Jeff Harper, Matt Pecchia and Ryan Megyesi.
With that many kids returning from an 11-3 team, Mooney's opponents should be shaking in their cleats a little. As usual, coach Fecko is not counting on anything and only looking at that opening night game in Cleveland and trying to come up with a way to stall St. Ignatius. He acknowledges that that showdown could be one for the ages, but is trying to keep the hype in perspective.
"I know the players and the school community are excited," said Fecko sounding a little anxious himself, "but once it kicks off it will be just a game between two great programs."
Tickets for that colossal clash can be purchased through the school's Treasurer's Office and are $10 in advance and $12 on the day of the game. Each ticket is good for both ends of the high school football doubleheader. North Royalton plays Broadview Heights at 2 p.m. then the Mooney/Ignatius battle begins at 7 p.m.