A season ago, Carl Pelini assumed the head coaching reins at his alma mater, Cardinal Mooney, the day before doubles were set to begin.
With a full season and entire off-season now under his belt, he is cautiously optimistic that the 2021 campaign can be the one that turns one of the Mahoning Valley’s most storied programs around and pointed in the right direction.
CMHS posted an un-Cardinals-like 2-6 overall mark last year but went 1-1 in the play-offs during a challenging, COVID-19 pandemic-type season that included everything from social distancing fans to a shortened regular season to every team qualifying for post-season play.
“We grew but since I didn’t take the job until the day before doubles, I felt like we were playing catch up all year,” Pelini said. “We were in the play-offs still installing offense and defense but this year has been completely different.
“We’ve had last year as a foundation to build off, had the kids in the weight room since November so I think we’re bigger, stronger, a little bit faster and have just a little more culture in the program. “We were able to talk football with them all summer so we are weeks, weeks, maybe months ahead of where we were a year ago in terms of understanding our schemes, both offensively and defensively. Hopefully, that translates to more success on the field.”
The Cardinals started the season 0-2 a year ago before defeating East, 7-0 for their initial win under Pelini. They finished the regular season with losses to Chaney, Boardman and Ursuline before drubbing Conneaut, 44-7 in the opening round of the play-offs.
A heartbreaking 24-21 loss to the Garrettsville Garfield G-Men in the second-round of the play-offs brought their season to a screeching halt but at the same time had both coaches and players alike already casting an eye toward the ’21 campaign.
Under Pelini, the Cardinals will run a multiple offense with a lot of personnel groupings and different sets while defensively, it’s a 42 or 43 depending on personnel. Two juniors, Cam Sweeney and Alec Delsignore, and sophomore Ashton O’Brien are currently in a battle for the starting signal caller slot. Only Delsignore has game experience having rushed the ball twice a season ago for 12 total yards.
“Right now, nobody has the upper hand,” Pelini said last week prior to their final scrimmage. “They are all doing good things with our last scrimmage a big determining factor in who starts against Boardman in our season opener. I do believe we’ll narrow it down to two and both will see some time early in the season.” Zy’ere Rogers, the Cardinals’ all-purpose running back the past three seasons, returns for his senior year looking to improve on his 1,189 yards rushing and seven touchdowns of a season ago.
“Zy’ere had a great off-season and we’re excited about him returning this season,” Pelini stated. “Davontae Miller is another running back with a lot of experience who has really looked good in camp. “Then we have a couple of young kids, Jamar Howell and John Jones, not a lot of experience but both with a lot of ability and that will give us something in the run game. Daqua Douglas as a fullback will be splitting time with Davontae [Miller] and he has looked good in the pre-season as well. The wide receivers and tight ends could be a strength for the team this season.
“Senior Jack Phillips was hurt a year ago but he’s tall, he’s fast, he’s long, has great hands and has had a tremendous pre-season,” Pelini noted. “Tyrin Howell is a completely different type of receiver, a little quicker, smaller and likes to work over the middle so we will be able to use him in a lot of different ways.
“We’re really deep at tight end which is something that I didn’t have the luxury of a year ago. We’ve got Jeff Brenner, Rob Hardy, Will Desmond and Carter Simons and all will see time.” The offensive line has depth, which pleases Pelini.
“The offensive line is probably the strength of our team,” Pelini said. “Both of our tackles, Tino Merlo and Adam Garloch played a lot a year ago. Adam played as a freshman, both are juniors and both have great size. “At center, Jack Desmond started every game last year, Mitch Tofil has a lot of experience at right guard and at the other guard position, there’s a competition going on right now between Michael Kaufman, Caleb Beachum and Logan Boyd so we are building some pretty decent depth on the offensive line.”
Defensively, Jack Desmond, Will Desmond and Brenner will see time while at tackle, Garloch and Merlo will be joined by Isiah Givens and Beachum. “Our linebackers are all back,” added Pelini. “Davontae [Miller] had a great season a year ago and was one of our leading tacklers. Daqua Douglas started every game for us last year as well. Rob [Hardy] and Jamar [Howell] stepped in and are giving us good depth as well as Logan [Boyd], who can play multiple positions.”
The defensive backfield also has depth and experience. “Right now, there’s still some competition going on but Tyrin Howell is at one corner,” Pelini stated. “He started every game he was in last year but was a transfer so he only played the first half of the season. A new starter on the other side, Brandon Lott, played a lot last year, had a great off-season and we expect great things from him. “At safety, Jack Phillips and Ty Reali are very athletic and should give us depth there.”
Special teams play has Nick Pregibon pegged as the team’s punter. “Nick Pregibon is a sophomore soccer player,” Pelini noted. “He has a strong leg, is very accurate and I am excited about him. Punting duties are still up in the air so we will see how that rolls out.
“Zy’ere [Rogers] will be back there returning punts along with Tyrin Howell and Jamar Howell, both of whom will see duties as returners.” The Cardinals play their first three games on the road, opening at Boardman on Friday night before traveling to Hubbard (August 27) and Chaney (September 3).
They will host Linsly (Wheeling, West Virginia) in their home opener on September 11 and follow that with a home contest against Austintown Fitch (September 17) before hitting the road to take on East (September 24) and Brush (October 1). They will conclude their season at home against Warren Harding (October 9), travel to Steubenville (October 15) then host arch-rival Ursuline (October 23) in their regular season finale.
“It’s always hard when you’re a Division V school and you’re playing Division II opponents,” Pelini said. “We’ve got Boardman and Austintown Fitch on the schedule, two big schools, Brush is on the schedule and we go down to Steubenville, which is always going to be a difficult task.
“Linsly, a private boarding school, is a new opponent this year and that will be a tough game. Ursuline is a strong team again this year and we will finish the season with them. It is going to be a challenge but that is who we are. We’re not going to back down from anybody. We’ll play everybody and do our best to see how it turns out.”
One thing new for the Cardinals’ program is a new home field as they move from YSU’s Stambaugh Stadium to nearby Mineral Ridge High School. “We thought we’d give it a chance and I am excited,” Pelini said about their new home field. “Playing in YSU stadium, I kind of felt like I as in a vacuum. There wasn’t a lot of atmosphere and the crowd was spread out.
“I think going to a smaller stadium will just create more of a high school atmosphere. I am excited to get fans closer to the field, bring the noise level up and I think it will be good for everybody. “We said we would do it for a year, looked at a lot of different places, decided on Mineral Ridge and we’ll see how it goes. We’ll evaluate at the end of the year and see what we will do moving forward.”
Kickoff against the Spartans is set for 7 p.m.
This article was republished here with permission from the Boardman News.