There's a quiet confidence this fall around practices for St. Charles.
The Cardinals are in their second season under coach Deke Hocker, meaning the players are familiar with the schemes and expectations for the coming months.
"In the second year, you should be a little ahead of where we were the previous year, and we definitely are," Hocker said. "That's natural because the kids are more familiar with us as people and they know the terminology better."
After going a combined 4-16 in 2016-17, St. Charles was 4-6 overall a year ago but 0-3 in the CCL. The Cardinals are 0-6 in the league since defeating Watterson 10-7 in 2016.
"I think it's the difference in our leadership," senior quarterback Andy Mason said. "The seniors are motivated to win and that's strong on our minds. We want to make St. Charles a winning football team."
Senior two-way lineman Connor Carretta said the team has been able to expand the playbook instead of just learning the basics of a new scheme.
"Last year we spent a lot of time working on our installs, learning our steps and things like that," Carretta said. "This year, it's been smoother and faster, and we've been able to expand the playbook because of the number of guys we have back. We're able to pay more attention to detail and expand our reads."
Senior Thomas Berry, a running back and linebacker, said the Cardinals have learned from past mistakes.
"The past couple of years have been pretty rough, but we're expecting big things this year," he said. "We think the sky's the limit if we play our best.
"I think things are going great. We have a new atmosphere around the team and we have some great leaders. I think we have good chemistry. I love every guy on our team and we have faith in each other."
Senior Cameron O'Neal said attention to detail will go a long way toward helping St. Charles improve.
"I think we need to work on the little things," said O'Neal, a tight end and defensive lineman. "We need to be disciplined and make sure we have things down pat before we go into the season."
Hocker said the team's 22 seniors will play a big part in any success the Cardinals might have.
"I think we have some more experience this year," said Hocker, whose team opens Aug. 30 at Dublin Scioto. "Many of our seniors have a few years under their belts which makes them more confident and better leaders. They're more confident in their abilities.
"I like our senior leadership. Some of our seniors are new. but we have guys like Carretta, O'Neal, Berry, (wide receiver/defensive back Roland) Rowe, (offensive linemen Mark) Feldmann and (Evan) Porter, who have played for four years and that really helps."
The Cardinals will run multiple offensive alignments, looking to take advantage of what defenses are giving them.
"We'll run from the gun a lot and have some two-back formations, one-back, four wide receivers and line up some with tight ends," Hocker said. "We'll be changing things up as we need to."
Mason started the last four games at quarterback after 2019 graduate Dan DiNapoli suffered a broken leg in a 35-7 loss to DeSales. Mason completed 20 of 51 passes for 348 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
"It was a big adjustment for me," Mason said. "Last year, I came out for football for the first time since the sixth grade, so the game speed was completely foreign to me. I had to learn how to move in the pocket and learn how to see (wide receiver) routes develop. I worked on that so much in the offseason, watching video and working with receivers.
"The offense has been looking good, and we have good depth in every position. We're all really confident in each other this year."
Rowe likely will be Mason's top target after catching 22 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Luke Eversole is the top returning rusher after gaining 271 yards on 61 carries with three touchdowns. He will share carries with Berry.
O'Neal returns at tight end and will line up alongside returning linemen Carretta, Feldmann, senior Dimitri Mays and Porter.
"We're excited that it will be the second year of the offense," O'Neal said. "Instead of learning something new, we'll be doing the same things and getting better."
Carretta and Rowe return after both were named second-team all-district and first-team all-league on defense.
Rowe totaled 30 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in the backfield. As part of the four-player front line, Corretta had 20 tackles, including a team-leading 13 for loss, and four fumble recoveries. O'Neal also returns up front.
"We have high expectations this season," Rowe said. "We're working hard and we want to have a better season than last year."
Berry returns at linebacker after making 32 tackles.
"The team has really become good teammates and the players are trying to develop as leaders," Hocker said. "We're working on limiting mistakes. Penalties and turnovers have cost us in critical times in the past, and we're trying to be more disciplined in those areas."
Quarterbacks: *Andrew Mason (sr., 6-3, 180), Hank Kern (sr., 6-6, 190)
Running backs: Thomas Berry (sr., 6-1, 195), Luke Eversole (sr., 5-10, 195)
Receivers: *Roland Rowe (sr., 5-9, 170), Giani Eramo (sr., 5-11, 180), Vinnie Foresta (sr., 5-11, 160), Joseph Umba (sr., 5-8, 170), J.J. Woodfin (sr., 6-0, 175)
Tight ends: *Cameron O'Neal (sr., 6-3, 230), Liam Smith (jr., 5-10, 195)
Linemen: *Connor Carretta (sr., 6-2, 270), *J.D. Epler (so., 6-5, 310), *Mark Feldmann (sr., 5-10, 225), *Dimitri Mays (sr., 6-1, 205), *Evan Porter (sr., 5-10, 250), Michael Melillo (sr., 5-9, 200), J.R. Racik (sr., 5-11, 190)
Linemen: *Carretta, *O'Neal, Epler, Feldmann, Melillo, Porter
Linebackers: *Berry, Carter Bryant (jr., 6-1, 180), Alex Herzberg (jr., 6-2, 205), Racik, Francis Sarko (sr., 6-1, 210)
Secondary: *Rowe, *Umba, Nicholas Rivera (sr., 5-8, 165), David Rodriguez (sr., 6-1, 185), Adyn Snyder (sr., 5-10, 150), Isaiah Yarngo (jr., 5-9, 155)
Kickers: Nicholas Bastaja (jr., 5-11, 160), Joel Tobler (jr., 5-10, 165)
Returners: Rowe, Yarngo
Long snapper: Carretta
(*Denotes projected starter)