Brookside fans will probably want to keep their game programs within arm’s reach as the 2012 season gets underway.
With just eight returning lettermen, including just three starters overall, second-year coach Thom Lesiecki will have new faces all over the field when his Cardinals kick off their season on the road against Oak Harbor this Friday.
Arin Pruitt, Brookside’s leading rusher on offense and leading tackler on defense during the 2011 season, moved to Florida. Cameron Drew, who made an impression on offense last season as a freshman quarterback, is not back on the squad this year. Brandon Bellman, who earned third-team All-Ohio recognition as a junior kicker in 2011, has been lost for the year due to a track injury.
The Brookside offensive line will feature a freshman, three sophomores and a junior, as well as a freshman tight end.
The Cardinals would have every reason to look at the 2012 season as a rebuilding project, but senior inside linebacker/fullback Chad Metcalf, who was second on the team with an average of 10.9 tackles per game last season, doesn’t want to hear that excuse.
“Yes, we’re rebuilding the program and have a lot of young players coming in,” he said. “But everyone’s been working hard throughout the offseason with their lifting and their running, so we’re also looking to compete and expect to win. I don’t care about the stats, I just want to win. We all have to work hard to get better and, as a team, play the cards we’ve been dealt.”
Lesiecki expects Metcalf to be the focus of the Cardinals on both sides of the ball.
“He’s going to have to carry the load for us,” Lesiecki said. “He’s going to get the ball a lot as a fullback as well as, technically, having to make every tackle on the field. He’s one of just two returning players on defense.”
One thing Lesiecki has done differently this season, as opposed to last year when the Cardinals went 4-6 overall, 1-4 in the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division, has been to put an offense in place. Last season Lesiecki and his staff would tailor the Brookside game plan and offensive system to that week’s opponent and to what healthy offensive players he had.
This year he put his Pistol/Wing T offense in place early, hoping the Cardinals can forge an identity. Even though Brookside got off to a quick start last season, winning three of its first four games and rushing for 184.2 yards per game, things changed rapidly when the Cardinals’ schedule got tougher.
“The teams (we were playing) got a whole lot better,” Lesiecki said. “We finished the season with Firelands as our 10th game, Black River our ninth and Wellington our eighth. Those were all playoff teams, and when you throw in the team before that, Buckeye, along with gallons and gallons of rain that came down each weekend…it was a combination of much better teams along with lousy weather; we had problems moving the football. And we had a lot of injuries at the end.”
Lesiecki put the pistol offense in place in the opening days of training camp and has not wavered.
“This year we believe in our kids and we believe in our system,” he said. “Somewhere along the line, we had to decide what our offense was going to be and decided this is what fits our kids. So we’re going to try to make it work without having to switch things up every week.”
After starting three different quarterbacks last season, sophomore Tyler O’Malley, a transfer from St. Edward, earned the starting nod quickly and will be at the helm to give the Cardinals’ offense some stability as long as he can stay healthy.
“He’s done OK, he’s picking it up,” Lesiecki said. “You can kind of see the lack of experience with him, but he’s doing a good job and is a work in progress.”
Junior Jake Morgan, who averaged 7.6 yards per carry in limited duty last season, and sophomore fullback Ian Standen will also be expected to provide offensive punch out of the Brookside backfield.
Defensively, Lesiecki has switched from a 4-4 defense to a 4-3, hoping his Cardinals will turn up the pressure on its opposition.
“We want to be aggressive,” he said. “We’re looking to be an aggressive, attacking defense.”
Defensive backs Nate Gaston, a senior, and Aiden Wonder, a junior, have emerged as the leaders of the Cardinals’ secondary.
“Secondary is one of our weaknesses,” Lesiecki said. “But we have a couple of guys who have stepped in and done well.”
The Cardinals open the season with a tough road game at Oak Harbor, a Sandusky Bay Conference representative. The Rockets finished 6-4 last season, but they have lots of talent back.
“We know we’re going to be up against it at Oak Harbor, but we’ll come to play,” Lesiecki said. “I told them, if we worry about playing our best we’ll see what happens at the end. We’re very excited about things. We have to get through Oak Harbor this weekend, and then we like our chances this season. We just have to see how much we’ll improve.”
Metcalf hopes his young teammates will continue to improve, as well as learn a few things about themselves along the way.
“Our biggest thing now is to get the younger players to have confidence in their abilities,” he said. “We’ve been improving throughout all our scrimmages and I have seen a lot of the kids doing the same things I do as far as working hard and striving to get better.
“We had a lot of people show up for the weightlifting through the winter and throughout the off-season. We have a good core of guys that have bought into the program. Some of the younger kids came in thinking they wouldn’t be playing, that they didn’t have the ability to play at the varsity level. Well, they got thrown into the varsity scrimmages and learned quickly that they belong.”
Contact Michael Perry at 329-7135 or email@example.com.