Expectations are high for the St. Charles Preparatory School football team given the return of 16 starters.

Expectations are high for the St. Charles Preparatory School football team given the return of 16 starters.

The Cardinals, who open Friday at home against defending Division V state champion Youngstown Ursuline, return all 11 starters on offense and five on defense from last season, when they won three of their final four games to finish 6-4 overall, marking just their second winning season in the last six years.

They finished 11th in the Division II, Region 7 computer standings with 15.45 points, as Watterson (16.8909) secured the region's eighth and final playoff berth.

Also last season, St. Charles went 0-2 in the CCL-Silver Division to finish behind DeSales (2-0) and Watterson (1-1).

The Cardinals lost 40-34 to Watterson in five overtimes and 20-10 to DeSales 20-10.

"We're very optimistic, but we know that we have to work to get it done because nobody is going to give us anything," senior linebacker John Mackessy said. "We're hungry to make the playoffs and make a deep run in the playoffs. To do that, we have to win the games we shouldn't and win the games we should."

The Cardinals' last playoff appearance came in 2002.

"I don't think we can achieve anything unless we have very high expectations," first-year coach Jeff Pharion said. "Our goal this year is to beat Watterson and to beat DeSales and to make the playoffs and to make a serious run in the playoffs. We talk about doing it. We're not shying away from it. We believe with 32 seniors and 97 in the program that there's no reason why we can't do it."

Returning on offense are senior quarterback Shane Bauman (5-foot-10, 190 pounds), senior wide receivers Steve Lutter (5-10, 190), Michael Ryan (6-3, 185) and Vinny Spahr (6-2, 175), junior wide receiver Dane McLoughlin (6-4, 180), junior running back Jourdan Wickliffe (6-1, 180), senior linemen Breen Cullivan (6-1, 260), Alex Franco (6-0, 275), Jordan Stumph (6-4, 270) and Justin Stumph (6-4, 270) and junior lineman Joe O'Brien (6-1, 240).

Wickliffe and Lutter have switched positions since last season, though they could see action at the positions they played a year ago.

"They're interchangeable," Pharion said. "It depends on what kind of play we're going to run. We may move them around a little bit."

Bauman was among the area passing leaders last season, completing 120 of 215 attempts for 1,652 yards, and was named special mention all-district.

"He's our returning MVP," Pharion said. "He had over 1,500 yards passing and he had over 700 yards rushing before you took out the yards he lost for sacks. He had a good year rushing the football last year as well as passing it, and he'll be expected to do both this year."

Ryan made second-team all-district last year. Justin Stumph was named special mention all-district and Wickliffe made honorable mention all-district.

Others expected to be key contributors on offense are senior running back Jake LaFleur (6-1, 180) and sophomore running back Gunnar Francis (5-9, 170). LaFleur missed all of last season with a back injury.

The returning starters on defense are Mackessy (5-8, 170), senior linebacker Dave Kenney (6-0, 200), senior cornerback Robert DeJaco (5-10, 180), Ryan at defensive end and Wickliffe at cornerback. Wickliffe played linebacker last year.

Also on defense will be Cullivan at tackle, LaFleur at free safety, Lutter at linebacker, senior lineman Andrew Burke (6-0, 210), senior linebacker Darius Edwards (5-10, 185) and junior cornerback Colin Merrill (5-9, 160).

J. Schroeder is expected to be the place-kicker and punter. The junior punted and handled kickoffs last year, while graduate Brad Marchese kicked extra points and field goals. Marchese made 11 field goals last year, ranking first among area kickers.

"We've been pushing real hard in the offseason and summer," Bauman said.

"We're looking to have an exciting year. (Having 16 returning starters) definitely raises our expectations. We have experienced guys playing on offense. We have a couple young guys who have to step up on defense, but they're solid athletes and they can do the job."

Pharion, a 1986 St. Charles graduate, was hired to replace Ted Wierzbicki, who resigned after four seasons to become the coach at Hilliard Bradley, which opens this year.

Pharion is in his 10th season with the Cardinals' program. He served as freshman coach the last six seasons after spending three years as a varsity assistant under coaches Mark Crabtree (2000) and Jeff Liebert (2001 and '02).

"I've been coaching the freshman team the last six years and the freshman team has had great success in the league and overall, and I'm trying to get the guys to understand that that's what's expected at this school," Pharion said.

The message seems to be getting through to the players.

"Playing under him, we haven't lost a game," Bauman said. "We were undefeated my freshman year (in 2006). Everybody is motivated to play. It's a positive atmosphere. We're definitely working hard to beat Watterson and DeSales and get into the playoffs and have a season that we've never had here."

"We're very happy with our new coaches," Mackessy said. "We had coach Pharion our freshman year and we were 10-0, so we expect nothing less under him."

As it did under Wierzbicki, St. Charles will utilize a spread offense and employ a 4-4 defense.

"It's similar, but some of the intricacies are a little different," Pharion said, comparing his offensive and defensive systems to those of Wierzbicki.