Most years the scouting report on Lima Central Catholic’s football team might start by talking about how young the Thunderbirds are.
Except for the fact they were even younger last season when they struggled through an uncharacteristic 2-8 season.
LCC started three freshmen last season, five sophomores got at least one start and some of the experienced players on the roster were lost to season-ending injuries.
With that year of sometimes tough experience, LCC hopes to get back to more familiar territory this season.
“It was definitely an experience to see the other side. Last year was difficult to say the least,” LCC coach Scott Palte said.
Palte, in his fourth season at LCC, says the Thunderbirds are anxious to turn things around.
“When they were in midgets and junior high they watched the winning here. We had the best weight room turnout in the summer we’ve had in the four years I’ve been here. They want to win, they want to restore the tradition,” he said.
LCC has 16 lettermen and returning starters at 19 positions.
Brendan Stolly, who became the starting quarterback when Anthony Venturella suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the 2016 season, is back for a second year as the starter.
Stolly (1,167 yards; 12 TDs, 11 INTs) was expected to play defense and wide receiver a year ago.
“He really got thrown in there. He probably didn’t get the reps (practice repetitions) he needed to be ready to go play,” Palte said.
“So far this season, he’s been really good. He has thrown the ball well and has been a great leader. He’s far more comfortable this year at quarterback than he was last year. I’ve seen a totally different player.”
Improving the running game is a priority for LCC after averaging 89 yards a game rushing and scoring only nine touchdowns on the ground last fall.
Three-year starter Conner Bowker and two-year starter Sammy Santaguida lead an offensive line group that includes seven players who started games last season.
“They’ve got some experience under the lights,” Palte said.
Logan Shultz (193 yards on 57 carries) was LCC’s top running back a year ago. Players like Brayden O’Dell, Michael Riepenhoff, Ron Banks and Nickiya Williams could also become playmakers this year, Palte said.
“We really like our team speed and the athletes we put out there,” he said. “We did not run the ball well last year. We struggled with maintaining blocks and hitting the hole. Establishing a strong running game has definitely been a point of emphasis going into the season.
“We have quite a few guys back on the offensive line and we have some good skill guys. We’re hoping to improve in that area. Definitely.”
Defensively, the area to watch could be at linebacker, where Matthew Heider has led LCC in tackles the last two seasons.
“We think that group is going to play some really good football,” Palte said.
LCC will have four different teams than last year on its schedule. Spencerville, Toledo Waite, Troy Christian and Gilmour Academy will replace Elida, Huron, Columbus Bishop Ready and Columbus Bishop Hartley.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.