First-year Cardinal Stritch football coach Brian Wical was hired in December to get the Cardinals’ program going in the right direction.
It won’t be easy, but Wical been through this process before.
Wical, 25, became an assistant coach at his high school alma mater, Lima Central Catholic, six years ago and helped turn head coach Jerry Cooper’s Thunderbirds from a .500 program into one of the top Division V programs in Ohio.
“We had a lot of success when I was at LCC,” Wical said. “We went 5-5 my first year and we improved every year. We went 9-3 in 2009 and 12-2 in 2010, when we lost in the state semifinals to Youngstown Ursuline. In 2011 we were 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state and got upset in the first round of the playoffs. Last year we were 10-0 and lost in the second round. We had won 29 regular-season games in a row when I left.”
Wical inherits a Stritch program that is coming off a 1-9 season (0-8 Toledo Area Athletic Conference) and has had more head coaches in the past 10 years than anyone cares to count. As of Aug. 7, this year’s team had 33 players but just four seniors.
Wical, however, said he is up for the challenge despite this being his first season as a head coach.
“I always wanted to be a head football coach,” he said. “I applied at several places the year before and I got an interview at a couple places. I probably wasn’t ready yet. I spent all of 2012 trying to improve myself as a coach and recognize my own shortcomings. I saw the Stritch job come open and it was only an hour and a half away (from Lima) and it was a Catholic school. I had an opportunity to apply and see what happens, and here I am a head coach now.”
Wical, who played tight end at LCC before graduating in 2006, was the Thunderbirds’ wingbacks coach and offensive coordinator. He has retained two Stritch assistant coaches in defensive coordinator Gary Allen and line coach Tom Katafiasz.
“We brought exactly the same things to Stritch from LCC,” Wical said. “We played seven-on-seven this summer with the same philosophy we ran at LCC, but I don’t have the same caliber athletes we had at LCC. I didn’t think we put (the Cardinals) in a good position to win games. We haven’t competed yet, so it’s hard to make that call. We’ve gone to an old split-back veer offense and we’ve had more success in practice against our guys. I’m trying to blend what I did at LCC and what I want to try to do here a little bit.”
Wical said he plans to run a 3-5-3 defense, due to the dearth of defensive linemen on the roster.
“We have 33 guys on the roster and most of our guys are not linemen,” he said. “We thought it might be easier for us to find three quality starting defensive linemen and plug in two solid backups behind them. We’ve got a ton of guys starting at linebacker who are tough and flying around a little bit. I’m hoping by doing that it will allow us to get after teams up front and pressure quarterbacks into making mistakes.”
Wical said priority No. 1 is teaching the Cardinals’ players what it takes to win.
“I don’t think they’ve ever been pushed to an elite level,” Wical said. “They don’t know what it takes to win consistenly. We’re trying to fix that. You want to bring in a winning attitude and a high amount of energy. If it means we do the same repetition 15-20 times, you do it 15-20 times until you do it right. It’s not acceptable to go through the motions. We challenge our kids every day about what are we getting out of being out there.”
Cardinal Stritch Athletic Director Craig Meinzer called Wical “an up-and-comer who has a lot of great ideas for the school.”
“He has a lot of energy,” Meinzer said. “Hopefully it works out for him and the kids buy into it.”
The Cardinals will open the season Aug. 30 against Woodward, a team they beat for their only win last season, with 18 returning lettermen.
“I really don’t have an expectation,” Wical said of the 2013 season. “I think we will be able to catch teams off guard. Our schedule sets up pretty favorably where we have some favorable games in the first four weeeks. The key for us is to get off to a fast start and see if we can win some games early and have that momentum carry over into the rest of the season.”