Coach: Joe Gutilla, second year, 1-9.
Last year: 1-9 (1-5 Toledo Area Athletic Conference).
Forecast: After posting back-to-back 1-9 seasons, Cardinal Stritch’s opponents are probably already marking the Cardinals down as a “sure” win in 2010.
Gutilla, a veteran coach with 37 years of experience at the high school and college levels, is confident that a veteran senior class will make sure Stritch gives its TAAC and non-conference opponents all they can handle.
“This team is developing good chemistry,” Gutilla said. “We have a larger senior class this year, and most of them have at least three years of varsity experience. The offensive line is a veteran group with at least two years of varsity experience, and these kids have had a solid year of experience running our offense.”
The Cardinals, who allowed 35.9 points per game and scored just 14 points per game last season, return four starters on the offensive line along with quarterback Mike Blazevich. A key loss to graduation is speedy All-TAAC running back Kyle Gladieux.
Last year Gladieux was an Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Second Team selection at free safety, and he earned honorable mention honors at running back. Gladieux scored 11 touchdowns, ran three conversion scores, plus he rushed for 1,081 yards on 194 carries, good for 5.6 per carry.
“Our overall team speed is improved,” Gutilla said, “and we will be able to spread the wealth a little more on offense this year rather than rely on one guy like we did last year.”
Stritch returns seven starters on offense and seven on defense, all of whom started on both sides of the ball in 2009.
The returning starters are David Szymanski and Murphy Mahoney, who played on the offensive line and at linebacker last season, two-way linemen Mike Kiss and Andy Geiermann, tight end/defensive lineman Christian Peters, wingback/defensive back Nick Fuller and Blazevich, who also starts in the secondary.
Szymanski was a second-team all-conference and All-Press honorable mention performer last year, while Fuller earned honorable mention honors. Szymanski had 93 tackles last year, Fuller had 55 tackles.
“Defensively, we may not be as big as some of our opponents, but we will be athletic and very active,” said Gutilla, who added that team depth remains a concern.
“Since depth is always an issue for us, we have to stay healthy,” he said. “If we do, I don’t see any reason why we can’t be a factor this season.”
Blazevich as a receiver last year caught 15 passes for 139 yards (9.3 per catch), while Fuller caught seven passes for 147 yards (21 per catch). Blazevich also ran for 161 yards on 39 carries (4.1 per carry) and one touchdown, plus he had 63 tackles on defense.
Sophomore defensive back Zach Denomy returns after getting two interceptions last year as a freshman.
Gutilla said after last year's season ended that the No. 1 goal for the program was to get stronger during the offseason.
“We (needed) to get into the weight room for a year,” he said. “I have all of my linemen returning and I think you’ll see some big differences (this) year. We don’t maintain that physicality on every single play, and that has everything to do with strength and speed. Once we spend a good, solid year in the weight room with these kids, you’ll see a big difference.”
The Cardinals open the season with a pair of road games — Aug. 27 at Fremont St. Joe and Sept. 3 at Woodmore. One of the big games this year will be when Stritch faces off with Northwood in the final week of the season for the Big Apple Deli Trophy.
Gutilla got his first taste of the Stritch-Northwood rivalry last year, and he said the Cardinals will show up ready to play.
“Our kids will be ready to play, no question. They’ll give everything they have. Northwood won’t just show up and throw their helmets on the field because they’re playing a team with one win,” Gutilla said before last year's Northwood match-up.
Last year, Gutilla said the Cardinals made big strides in the attitude department, also.
“We are certainly more competitive,” he said. “What wins and losses never show, they show the final score but not how the game was played."
Our kids have been in every game this year except one or two. Our competitive attitude has really improved week to week. Our kids give me everything they have.”