- By Greg Billing Contributing Writer
To kick off high school football practice, Triad spent several days at Long’s Retreat Family Resort near Hillsboro as a team bonding experience.
Getting to know one another has taken a longer for the Cardinals these days. And that’s a good thing. When coach Joe Cardinal took over the program in July of 2016 the roster had 22 players. Now there are 41. Included among them are 13 seniors. That’s more than the past two seasons combined.
“The big thing is guys who may not necessarily know each other get to hang out,” Cardinal said of the trip. “It does help build team chemistry.”
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Nine starters return on both sides of the ball. One of the Cardinals’ greatest strengths resides on the offensive line.
Seniors Easton Huffman and Michael Leistritz are at tackle, Riley Louck and Dylan Warner are at guard and Josiah Leasure is at center. Size is also a plus with the tackles weighing about 240 pounds, the guards at 220 and center about 250.
“We’re going to go as far as they take us,” Cardinal said. “We have five seniors up front and we’re sitting about eight deep, with seven of them seniors.”
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Junior Jordan Simonelli returns at quarterback after throwing for 1,789 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Senior Isaiah Bruce, Simonelli’s favorite target, will also see time at defensive end in addition to wide receiver. Bruce enters the season with offers from Morehead State and Urbana.
Defensively, Louck leads the way with more than 100 tackles. Both Bruce and Louck were first-team, All-Southwest District selections last season.
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Much like on offense, the defensive line – with many of those same names – will be key especially with a young secondary.
“The big thing we have to do, especially when you’re a Division VII football team, is avoid the injury bug,” Cardinal said. “That’s something we did not do last year.”
Among the injuries in 2017 were a pair of torn ACLs, a dislocated elbow and a severely sprained ankle. That forced Cardinal to play more sophomores and freshmen, but they gained valuable Friday night experience.
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“The biggest concern is always that fluke injury,” Cardinal said. “We’re full go from as far as that goes. We have two pretty good running backs and after that we have some freshmen guys. We don’t want to beat up those freshmen in practice.”
The schedule changes with the addition of Bradford in Week 1 and Ridgemont in Week 2. Both of those programs are D-VII, as is Triad, and replace a pair of D-V schools in Indian Lake and North Union.
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Triad will play four D-VII, four D-VI and two D-V schools. That’s a switch from 2017 when the Cardinals played just two teams in their division, while facing four bigger schools from D-V and D-VI.
Triad finished 1-9 overall last season and 0-5 in the Ohio Heritage Conference’s North Division. The victory came with a 34-32 crossover defeat of Cedarville in Week 5. To boost that win total the Cardinals will also need to cut down on turnovers. Triad averaged nearly four per game in 2017.
“One thing we need to do is focus on the little things the entire year,” Cardinal said. “Little things became big things as the season went. Right now Bradford is all we’ve talked about this preseason. We want to win Week 1.”