Last season was difficult for the Fisher Catholic High School football team.
It began well for new coach Mike McCann, but a number of things turned a promising year into a 5-5 campaign, which became much more sad off the field.
The Irish won their first four games, including 34-28 in overtime over Newark Catholic, which finished 13-2 and won the Division VI state championship.
"We were one of only two teams to beat Newark Catholic and the other was Licking Valley, which was the Division III state runner-up," said McCann, who was a defensive coordinator at the school the previous four seasons. "We're 5-2 against Newark Catholic the past six years, and that's pretty special."
But Fisher Catholic lost five of its final six and finished 2-5 in the MSL-Cardinal Division.
"Our league is as tough and balanced as it's ever been. We had three playoff teams (West Jefferson, Licking Heights, Berne Union), plus Liberty Union and us also had a chance to make the playoffs," McCann said. "We had some tough injuries and had some more important family issues for our school take place off the field."
One of the situations arose when sophomore Brenden Krannitz suffered a broken leg and later was diagnosed with terminal malignant melanoma, which is a form of skin cancer brought on by too much ultraviolet radiation reaching the skin. Krannitz died Dec. 2 at the age of 15, just 10 weeks after being diagnosed.
"We're dedicating this season to him, with a decal on our helmet," McCann said. "The family has started a scholarship fund. and we're starting an award we'll give out in his memory. He had a positive attitude, was a positive influence on others, and was a contributor on the field."
Another blow hit the Fisher Catholic community when Ben Thimmes, a social studies teacher at the school, was diagnosed with ALS. He retired in January.
"His brother, Luke, is an assistant on the staff, and at a school our size all the kids know (Ben)," McCann said. "So we had some unusual circumstances."
The Irish lost a large group of graduates and return just six seniors, led by Luke Roesch. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound tight end and defensive end was first-team all-state pick and has scholarship offers from many colleges, including Purdue and Northwestern.
"We're going to move him around, split him out to create mismatches and get him the ball as often as we can," McCann said. "He's the real deal."
Concerns for Fisher Catholic are the offensive line and the overall inexperience.
Just three starters are back to run the wing-T offense. The defense, which will use multiple fronts, has four starters back.
"We're extremely young, with just six seniors," McCann said. "We played a lot of sophomores last year, but now they have to become starters and leaders. They're working hard and have been in the system, so now it's time to show what they can do."
McCann said he expects senior John Fox to anchor the offensive line at center, with seniors Joe Karch and Jack Ragland and junior Bubba Ragland to play in a guard rotation.
McCann also expects big things from junior fullback Nick Orlando and junior wingback Vince Kitzmiller.
On defense, Roesch and Orlando will be ends, with Jack Ragland at tackle and rotating in at end. Bubba Ragland will be at linebacker, with Fox at one tackle and Kitzmiller at free safety.