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."
Golf team playing better than expected
Coach Brian Unk has been pleasantly surprised by the performance of his golf team in the early portion of the season.
The Cardinals have returned just one of the five postseason performers from last fall when they finished fourth (312) in the Division I district tournament behind state-qualifiers Dublin Jerome (294) and Olentangy Liberty (307). Sophomore Reece Yakubov shot an 82 at district.
"We lost four seniors from the lineup last season, so I thought we might have a little bit of growing pains," said Unk, who shares coaching duties with another fifth-year coach, Tod Hecht. "Everyone has gotten a little better than last year and we have had a strong start."
In the CCL preseason tournament Aug. 15 at Darby Creek, the Cardinals shot a 293 to finish first ahead of Hartley (311), Watterson (316), DeSales (339) and Ready (540). Yakubov and sophomore Luke Gutman both shot 72, followed by senior Oliver Mauntel (74), senior Jack Coughlin (75), junior Vince Campagni (76) and sophomore Jason Zehala (76).
"Luke has been our No. 5 guy all year and he really played well," said Unk, whose team has won 10 consecutive league titles. "Oliver has been our No. 6 player and he was our No. 3 at Darby Creek.
"We shot really well. When your low score is a 76, things are going well."
The Cardinals had three medalist performances heading into the league opener. Yakubov was first in the Cleveland St. Ignatius Invitational on Aug. 7 at Red Tail with a 72, as the Cardinals finished fourth (310) behind the champion and host Wildcats (302).
Yakubov also was medalist in the Hudson Explorer Invitational on Aug. 13 at Hudson Country Club. He shot a 70 as St. Charles tied Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin for second (297) behind St. Ignatius (293).
Campagni shot 70 to win medalist honors in the New Albany Invitational on Aug. 9 at New Albany Links. The Cardinals were runners-up (302) behind Jerome (300).
"We have been playing better than expected," Unk said. "We haven't had any bad rounds, but the good thing is we can still get better."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Vince Giannotti, Nathan Pelino and Eddie Pollina and junior Michael Shyu.
Aug. 4 -- Thomas Worthington Preview at Delaware Golf Club
Aug. 6 -- Columbus Academy Shootout at Columbus Country Club
Aug. 7 -- Cleveland St. Ignatius Invitational at Red Tail
Aug. 8 -- Westerville Central Invitational at Rattlesnake Ridge
Aug. 9 -- New Albany Invitational at New Albany Links
Aug. 11 -- Cincinnati St. Xavier Invitational at Maketewah
Aug. 13 -- Hudson Explorer Invitational at Hudson Country Club
Aug. 14 -- Dublin Invitational at Golf Club of Dublin
Aug. 15 -- CCL preseason tournament at Darby Creek
Aug. 18 -- Cincinnati Moeller Invitational at Walden Ponds
Aug. 20 -- Toledo St. John's Invitational at Inverness
Sept. 1 -- Upper Arlington Pinnacle Classic at Pinnacle
Sept. 2 -- Dublin Jerome at Pinnacle
Sept. 8 -- St. Charles Invitational at Brookside
Sept. 15 -- Findlay Trojan Invitational at Findlay Country Club
Sept. 22 -- Upper Arlington at Scioto Country Club
Sept. 23 -- CCL postseason tournament at Apple Valley
Sept. 29 -- Dublin Jerome Honorary Invitational at Tartan Fields
Oct. 6 -- Wedgewood Showcase
Below are the coming schedules for the St. Charles cross country, soccer and water polo teams:
Aug. 25 -- Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North
Aug. 23 -- At Westerville South
Aug. 25 -- At Springboro
Aug. 24-25 -- Mason Invitational