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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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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."

The Cardinals struggled through a 1-9 season a year ago, with their only win coming against Danbury. To get things going in the right direction in 2009, Gutilla said Stritch needs to be more physical.

"We're going to run the football," he said. "We're going to use the running game to set up the passing game. We just have to be more physical up front. The spread offense is fine if you have the kids who can run it. We have smaller kids, quick kids. We have to teach them how to pull and trap. We're going to be closer to a wing-T type of offense."

Gutilla said the Cardinals' multiple defense will be based out of a 4-2-5 formation.

"A lot of the schools we play use spread offenses," the coach said. "We have to be versatile and be able to jump out of different looks to use our kids' strengths. We're not going to be able to sit back and read. Teams are going to see us in different things."

Stritch began summer practice with 25 players, but Gutilla said the numbers have increased to about 30 after "a couple more showed up Wednesday."

"My goal is to try to increase the numbers, as I have the other schools I've coached," Gutilla said. "Back East and in Minnesota, we started out with small numbers. I had 62 in my program the first year and by the time I left we had more than 100 boys come out for football.

"At the school back East, I had 32 players my first year and by the time I left we had almost 60. That's my biggest goal, to try to increase the numbers."