When the St. Charles Preparatory School football team takes the field Friday, Aug. 24, against visiting Dublin Scioto, first-year coach Deke Hocker will be calling all of the shots for the first time.
Scioto coach Karl Johnson was experiencing similar emotions in 2000 when his team played Westland in his first opener. The Irish came away with a 51-8 win to begin Johnson's 5-5 inaugural season.
"That was a long time ago, but I know that I was anxious and that you never have all the bases covered," said Johnson, whose program has never played St. Charles. "You just don't know what you don't know. You're starting something new and you're putting your footprint on it."
Hocker may have his work cut out for him, inheriting a team that went 4-16 in two seasons under Bob Jacoby. The Cardinals were 1-9 overall and 0-3 in the CCL last fall.
"Scioto will be a great opener for us," said Hocker, who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Buckeye Valley the past five seasons. "There's a lot of history there. Coach Johnson does a great job and they have had some good players coming out of there. They are going to be well-prepared and it will be exciting to play them. We're excited to see our guys get out there and play."
Senior running back Taylor Bryant is one of seven starters returning on offense for the Cardinals. The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder rushed for 563 yards and three touchdowns on 110 carries last fall.
Senior Dan DiNapoli battled juniors Hank Kern and Andrew Mason for the quarterback spot in the preseason.
Bryant (63 tackles, 7 sacks) also played linebacker and is one of seven returning defensive starters. Also back is senior safety Jake Moore, who had a team-high 132 tackles last fall.
"Our kids are progressing mentally and physically," Hocker said. "It's a daily process trying to improve and they have been working really hard to get better."
The Irish return several key contributors from last year when they finished 5-5.
Leading the spread offense will be quarterback Kyron Rogers. The senior passed for 1,564 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions after missing the first two games with a thumb injury.
Senior Cayson Pfeiffer is back at defensive end and senior Logan Williams returns at linebacker. Senior Griffin Crosa, a North Dakota State recruit, returns as place-kicker and punter.
"We're optimistic about the season," Johnson said. "I feel like we have a good group with a good work ethic. We have to focus on what is important and show up ready to play."
Johnson said the opening game is a way to gauge the direction in which the season may be headed.
"Aside from always looking for a 'W' in the first week, you have to be in great shape and know what you want to do," Johnson said. "You can't do everything. You have to do the things that the kids can do fast and do without thinking. When they start thinking, then they can get themselves in trouble.
"Really, the first week is all about yourself. You need to see if you have gotten better leading up to that first game and how you handle playing on Friday nights."
Hocker believes opening night is fun but has the same ramifications as any other game.
"Every game is important. It's just the first game we play," he said. "Every game is its own game. ... We try to approach them all the same way. We look to execute and play fast. We want to execute the things we have been working on over the past few weeks."