The high school football season hasn’t started yet, but the Triad Cardinals are already ahead of the game.
The Cardinals return seven starters on offense and six on defense from a team that at this point last season was still getting to know first-year coach Joe Cardinal. Cardinal was hired just before the start of two-a-day practices. Triad played catch up all summer learning Cardinal’s system, while Cardinal was learning his players’ names.”
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“I think the advantage we have this year is we actually had an offseason,” he said. “Last year I didn’t even know my staff going into the first practice.”
Triad finished 1-9 overall and 1-6 in the Ohio Heritage Conference. The lone victory was a 48-7 victory over Cedarville. Triad found itself on the other side of those types of scores often last season, excluding a 36-34 loss to Southeastern.
But with 13 total starters returning, an entire offseason in the weight room and now familiarity with the players, Cardinal anticipates a turnaround.
“We knew going into last year the league was a senior loaded league,” Cardinal said. “It’s going to be that way again, but we’re playing the same guys we did last year but they’re a year stronger. I’m excited.”
Triad has two seniors on the roster with wide receiver/safety Cam Atchison and running back/linebacker Andy Martin. Atchison played his first two seasons at Triad, played at Mechanicsburg last season and is back at Triad for his last year.
Junior tight end/linebacker Isaiah Bruce (the team’s leading receiver last season), junior offensive and defensive lineman Riley Louck (the team’s leading tackler last season) and junior running back Dylan Rice also gained valuable experience a season ago.
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“We only have two seniors on our roster. Every single snap we’re playing nine juniors or sophomores,” Cardinal said. “Only having two seniors is good and bad. A lot of our younger guys are going to get some Friday night experience. But that’s a year’s less time they have in the weight room (to prepare). The two seniors we have with Cam and Andy are phenomenal. I couldn’t ask for better seniors. Our juniors and sophomores are really stepping up.
“The community is great and has been very supportive of the football team. I think as a whole everybody knew we were young last year. Playing a majority of sophomores on Friday nights is tough. We were a junior varsity-aged team playing a varsity schedule.”
Triad – which has 33 players on the roster – plans to start two seniors, five juniors and four sophomores. Many of them learned some hard knocks against the Ohio Heritage Conference that produced three playoff teams in Greeneview, Mechanicsburg and West Liberty-Salem.
The schedule is again tough, especially considering Triad finds itself in Division VII, Region 28. The Cardinals were D-VI last season. That means four games are against D-V opponents, four are against D-VI teams and two are against teams in their own small-school division.
The good news is that knock off the right teams and Triad could receive major computer points to qualify for the playoffs.
Triad has non-league games against Indian Lake and North Union before playing Catholic Central, Greenon and Cedarville in OHC crossover games. The OHC split into divisions for the 2017 season and Triad was placed in the North along with Fairbanks, Mechanicsburg, Northeastern, West Jefferson and West Liberty-Salem.
“I think we have the talent to win this year. We’re young, but offensively we should be good,” Cardinal said. “We’ve got some guys who can do nice things with the ball in their hand. We’re expecting that when Week 10 rolls around for that game to matter.
“Every team in the North lost a majority of their guys. I think we will have the most returning players so we expect to be better. We’re going to show up every Friday and expect to win. That’s why we’re out here.”
Cardinal, a 2000 graduate of Sebring McKinley High School here in Ohio, came to Triad after serving as co-defensive coordinator at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, Tenn., from 2013-15. Ravenwood won the big school state championship in 2015 and was state-runner up in 2014.