Deke Hocker had a roller-coaster second season as coach of the St. Charles football team.
The Cardinals won their first three games, but injuries mounted as they lost their final five to finish 4-6 overall and 0-3 in the CCL. The outcome was identical to his first season, but Hocker said the team made strides.
"I feel like we had really good senior leadership, and we had a great group of kids to coach," he said. "We had some good wins. We found ourselves in position to win some games, but we didn't close things out. That's a part of learning to win."
The Cardinals opened with a 28-21 win over Dublin Scioto on Aug. 30 and followed with a 19-16 win against Eastmoor Academy on Sept 6. They then defeated Ready 19-7 on Sept. 13 to start 3-0 for the first time since 2010.
St. Charles lost to Scioto 56-7 and Eastmoor 46-15 in 2018.
"I thought it was fun," senior running back Luke Eversole said. "It was my first season playing full time and we had a run of games to start the season when we were surprising people. We bonded really well and this was the closest team that I have been a part of."
The Cardinals had key injuries in the second half of the season, especially to playmakers Roland Rowe and Isaiah Yarngo and senior defensive back Bowen Minnich. Rowe, a senior, was a three-year starter at wide receiver and defensive back and Yarngo, a junior, made his mark at the same positions.
"Injuries kind of hurt us in the second half, and that's not an excuse because everyone has injuries as the season goes along," Hocker said. "We played without some key guys, and we had to have some younger guys step up for us."
A staple throughout the season was Eversole, who rushed for 1,362 yards and 13 touchdowns on 266 carries.
Senior linebacker Thomas Berry had 65 tackles, five tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one interception to help lead the defense.
Senior defensive lineman Connor Carretta had 11 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble, and senior defensive lineman Cam O'Neal had nine tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
"We have only had a chance to coach the seniors for a couple of years," Hocker said. "They led by example both at school and in practice. They did well in the physical component of the game, and they did that all year. All of the seniors meant so much, and we're going to miss them a lot."
Junior linebacker Carter Bryant led the team with 75 tackles, including five for loss, and had two fumble recoveries and one interception. Junior Nick Bastaja averaged 34.5 yards on 27 punts and made all 15 of his extra-point attempts as well as two field goals.
The offensive line included sophomore J.D. Epler (6-foot-5, 310 pounds) and freshman Ryan Carretta (6-5, 275).
Juniors George Cottrill (OL/DL), Alex Herzberg (RB/LB) and John Protz (WR/DB) also are expected to return.
"We have good pieces coming back," Hocker said. "We will have some young linemen back in J.D. Epler and Ryan Carretta. We have a chance to have a big offensive line next year, which is good because we're going to be breaking in some new running backs."