Last year was the first season since 2003 in which the Canfield football team failed to finish the season with a winning record.
After starting last season with a 2-2 mark, the Cardinals dropped every remaining game to finish 2-8. Head coach Mike Pavlansky is eager to erase the bitter memories from last fall and get his kids into the proper shape for 2013.
"It's been a long off season," said Pavlansky from his football office recently. "The kids have done a great job improving this offseason and we have some great senior leadership so we're ready to go."
Canfield head football coach Mike Pavlansky
If the Cardinals are to avoid their first back-to-back losing campaigns since 1998 and 1999, they will have to do so with an inexperienced roster. Granted, these Cardinals aren't as green as the ones who took the field in 2012, but only 11 starters return from that group.
"There will be lots of competition for sure," Pavlansky noted.
One spot that seemed to have been sewed up early in the offseason is quarterback. Senior Kimu Kim just finished a shade below 500 passing yards in 2012 and was Canfield's leading rusher with 596 yards. His versatility is a big reason why he should be number one behind center when the Cardinals commence the regular season at Louisville on Aug. 30.
"We have confidence in Kim so he should be our man," said Pavlansky. "Still we'll have some good competition (at quarterback)."
The two main suitors for Kim's starting signal caller spot will be juniors Drew Rogers and Aaron Jenkins.
Of course, in coach Pavlansky's offense the running back is held as highly as the office of the presidency. With junior Nick Annichenni returning to the roost this season, there should be no reason to impeach the incumbent.
"Having Nick back is a positive," Pavlansky said plainly.
Annichenni rushed for 473 yards a year ago and is the team's leading returning receiver with 15 catches for 98 yards. He will be spelled at tailback by junior Luke Whittenberger and flanked at fullback by the combination of senior Bryan Batton and junior Dylan Kuhn who are both letter winners as well.
While Canfield's offense was more unproven than pitiful in 2012, its defense was just the opposite. The Cardinals were clipped for just about 30 points per game by opposing offenses and something that was once a staple of a Pavlansky coached club disappeared. At least the Cardinals will have a bevy of upperclassmen returning to right the ship defensively.
Senior linebackers Carter Rhoads and Alec Buchenic will be back to anchor the Canfield "D." Buchenic is the leading returning tackler with 51 and Rhoads was right behind him with 45. Batton and junior Jordan Brown are also reliable linebackers.
Senior letter winner Joe Durbin will be the main cog along the defensive line. Annichenni and senior Nick Luchansky will join forces with junior John French to make up three quarters of a fine defensive backfield quartet. Despite the lofty class rank of these defenders, they still are mostly only one and two-year starters.
"Our defense is more experienced (than last year), but still young in terms of years played," Pavlansky said.
Another part of the defense that usually gets overlooked is the punting game. Having a great punter punishes the other team in the field position battle and can make up for a poor effort by the offense. Thankfully, the Cardinals are pleased to have back 2012 All American Conference Team punter Edmond Pilolli. The senior slammed the ball at a 34 yard per punt average and killed six punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Should coach Pavlansky need to dig a little deeper into his depth chart to find some reliable players he believes he has a super cast of underclassmen to choose from.
"We have some sophomores who are all doing a good job so far," said the coach. "We're looking forward to seeing these kids develop."
Some of the names Pavlansky mentioned in that group are defensive linemen Jaret Bunch, Matt Minenok and Collin Fischel, linebacker/guard Jacob Esarco, defensive end/tight end Andrew Hallof and defensive back Kato Kim.
Regardless of whom Pavlansky picks to play each week, those boys will be in for brutal battles with some stiff competition. The All American Conference is stacked with preseason league favorite Hubbard, arch rival Poland, always tough Howland and upstarts Struthers and Niles. Canfield dropped Beaver Local from the slate only to add Division II playoff participant Akron Ellet. With a schedule so full of potential pitfalls, it's no wonder why coach Pav is keeping his expectations tempered a few weeks before the season starter.
"Our kids need to be ready to play every Friday night," Pavlansky insisted. "We were not very competitive last year and that didn't sit well with us. We're anxious to get this season started to show everyone how much we've improved."