First-year Thomas Worthington football coach Mike Picetti was about a week away from his team's opening game Friday, Aug. 28, at home against Newark, and he still was working through how to prepare for the Wildcats.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the last name of Thomas Worthington's Ethan Gerding.
He wouldn't be able to get his hands on any game tape until after Newark scrimmaged Granville on Aug. 22 and wasn't sure what to expect from the Wildcats until then.
But Picetti, who served as defensive coordinator at Hilliard Bradley from 2017-19, spoke like a true defensive-minded coach when discussing the keys to victory in Week 1.
"I think the team that's going to be the most sound defensively is going to have the best chance to win the game," he said. "I think with either one of us, if we don't have any film on either one of them, it's going to be a crapshoot. And whoever's going to be able to adjust the quickest and play off of that is going to have a better chance of winning.
"But I think defense is going to be a very big key, because obviously offense is going to have the advantage because you don't know what's coming."
Defensively, Thomas returns linebacker Reese Dykstra, a senior in his third year as a starter. He led the Cardinals with 77 tackles in 2019 to earn first-team all-league honors, and he's expected to be a leader in Picetti's revamped 4-3 hybrid defense.
Thomas finished 4-6 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Cardinal Division last season and hasn't had a season above .500 since 1999.
Other key defenders for the Cardinals include senior linemen Sam Carver and Ethan Gerding and junior Camden Beatty, a second-team all-league selection last year, in the secondary.
Carver and Gerding also start on the offensive line, where they'll block for senior quarterback Isaac Settles and senior running back Jayden Harris.
This will be the first meeting between the teams since Newark won 19-13 in 2008. The Wildcats finished 1-9 overall and 1-4 in the OCC-Capital a year ago, winning their season finale 41-30 over Franklin Heights.
"I know last year they were a little bit more spread, but they're usually a pretty run-heavy offense," Picetti said. "We have to control the run against them and force them into things they don't want to do."
According to Newark coach Bill Franks, who is in the second year of his second stint after coaching the Wildcats from 1997-2001, juniors Giovanni Aber and Hunter Vogel will share time at running back.
Senior Jake Sherman is at quarterback after playing wide receiver last season.
"We feel like we have good chemistry with Sherman returning at quarterback," Franks said.
Sherman is a member of a senior class that includes other top players such as wide receiver/defensive lineman Trei Dansby, two-way lineman Gabe Madden, wide receiver/defensive back Garrett Ramsey and offensive lineman/linebacker Payton Sherrard.
"It's a good senior class," Franks said. "It's a group that cares about each other."
Franks said he isn't stressing the challenges of preparing for an opponent with limited or no advanced scouting information. He's simply happy the Wildcats will have an opportunity to play this year amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
"We feel fortunate just to get to play," he said. "This is about kids, and we feel blessed that kids get to play."