Coach: Joe Gutilla, first year, 0-0
Last year: 1-9 (1-4, TAAC)
Forecast: The Cardinals have a first-year coach and just one returning all-conference player, senior Kyle Gladieux, but Gutilla said Stritch has speed and a lot of heart.
“We have some solid skill position players with good speed and quickness,” he said. “We’re small up front but quick, and we will play hard.”
Stritch’s seven returning starters include Gladieux at running back/defensive back, senior quarterback A.J. Zalewski, junior two-way lineman Mike Kiss, junior lineman/linebacker David Szymanski, senior tight end/defensive lineman Zach Rodriguez, junior running back/defensive back Nick Fuller and junior lineman/linebacker Murphy Mahoney.
The Cardinals’ weaknesses are depth, size and inexperience, according to Gutilla.
“We have just over 30 players but only seven seniors, so we’ll be playing ironman football until we can get the younger players up to speed,” the coach said. “Of the seven seniors, only three have varsity game experience. Most of the team will be juniors and sophomores.
“Overall, we’re small in physical size but our expectations are to play fundamentally sound football. We want to be competitive in each game for four quarters.”
Gutilla said he never gives his teams a goal for how many wins they should earn in a season. The Cardinals open Aug. 28 against Fremont St. Joe at Northwood High School, and a win there would give Stritch its same win total from a year ago, when it beat Danbury. To get things going in the right direction in 2009, Gutilla said Stritch needs to be more physical.
“Our goals are to be fundamentally sound in all phases of the game, Gutilla said. “If we do that, we will be in every game. If we do that, that’s when character takes over.”
Cardinal Stritch was picked to finish sixth in the seven-team TAAC, ahead of Danbury. Gutilla called defending champ Northwood “the class of the TAAC.”
Getting a high school football program turned around is no easy feat, but Joe Gutilla has done it before.
Cardinal Stritch’s first-year coach has the task of turning the Cardinals from a 1-9 team into a winner.
“Our goal is to keep our kids in the football game,” said Gutilla, 56, who is also Stritch’s athletic director. “We want to be in the game in the fourth quarter to give ourselves a chance to win. We’re young and inexperienced and we don’t have a lot of starters back, but the starters we have back are pretty good football players.”
Gutilla, a Chicago native, spent the last two years as an assistant coach at Columbus Academy. He is a former defensive coordinator at Division II Sonoma State (Calif.) University, and he also coached club football at the University of San Francisco.
“My wife got a job in New Hampshire and I got a job at Trinity High School in Manchester, N.H., for four years,” Gutilla said. “I took that team to two straight state semifinals and we won the city championship game my final year there.”
Gutilla then moved to Minneapolis, where he was the head coach and dean of students at Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School for eight years.
“I’ve had an experience twice now of trying to rebuild programs at Catholic schools, and I had some success back East and in Minnesota,” Gutilla said. “In Minnesota they had a team that had not had a winning season in 11 years and we ended up winning two conference championships in a row.”
Gutilla said he likes what he’s seen from the Cardinal Stritch players since two-a-day camp opened Aug. 3.
“We have a lot of heart,” he said. “I’m surprised we do have some speed and quickness. They’re eager and they’re tired of getting beat. Right now we’re working on their mental approach to the game and getting their attitudes turned around and developing that character it takes to play in a football game.
“We have to play ironman football. My philosphy is if we can teach them to out-block, out-hustle and out-tackle an opponent for four quarters, that will keep us in the game. After that, football is football or like any other sport. It depends on how the ball bounces.”