When a team has returning starters at 16 positions and those starters were major contributors during a 9-2 season that didn’t end until the second round of the playoffs, the expectation is that it should have another good season.
That’s the position Lima Central Catholic is in after going 9-2 last fall before losing to eventual Division VI state runner-up Marion Local in the second round of the playoffs.
“We have a lot of experience, a lot of guys who played a lot of football for us last year. A lot of those guys have played since their freshman or sophomore year,” LCC coach Scott Palte said.
But even with all that experience, LCC has holes to fill and is not a finished product.
“We have a lot of guys back, but there are open positions. We need guys to step up and gain control of those spots. I know what we’re going to get from the guys we have back. We have to have some of those other guys who haven’t played a lot step up. We have to find them,” Palte said.
Probably the biggest area of need is replacing two-way lineman Micah Pearson, a first-team All-Ohio player, and running back/linebacker Ron Banks and wide receiver/defensive back Jeremy Allen, both of whom were honorable mention All-Northwest Ohio.
Offensively, the Thunderbirds have experience in all areas.
Shaun Thomas, who became the first LCC freshman to rush for more than 1,000 yards two years ago, has averaged nearly 10 yards per carry the last two seasons. Quarterback Nevan Stolly is a two-year starter, and running back Rossi Moore is also back.
Offensive lineman Ethan Truex and wide receiver Michael Jay Riepenhoff are multi-year starters. Caleb Heider and Zac Jacobs are returning starters on the offensive line.
Split end/defensive back Nate Stolly, linebacker/running back Dylan Wilson along with Heider, Riepenhoff, Moore and Thomas could be two-way starters. Keegan Zupan (OL/DL) and Gavin Laird (OL/DL) also have starting experience.
Palte called Moore “our best overall football player.”
“If you are going to go offense and defense, he’s our best player. He’s our best blocker, he’s our best defensive player. He can run the ball as well. Shaun is our best weapon, but Rossi is a little ahead of him on defense. But I wouldn’t trade either one of them,” Palte said.
Without a league, LCC is continually playing opponents it has never competed against before.
This year’s new additions to the schedule are a familiar face in Lima Senior in the season opener on Aug. 29, Mogadore, Columbus Kipp Academy and Shelby.
Lima Senior was 2-8 last season. Mogadore was 11-2 and lost to eventual Division VI state champion Kirtlnd in a regional championship game. Kipp Academy was a Division VII team that won one game. Shelby, a Division IV team, finished 5-5.
Scouting unfamiliar teams is “really a challenge,” Palte said. “Each year we’ve gotten a little better at it. It’s a huge difference from playing in a conference.
“In the Northwest Conference days at Columbus Grove (where Palte coached before LCC), you knew 80 percent of what the coaches were going to run. The biggest problem when we watch some of these teams we haven’t played is we’re not familiar with their opponents, either.
“It’s definitely a challenge every year with new teams we’re not familiar with. On the other hand, we feel like some of the things we do on offense and defense, we present a challenge for other teams.
“If you’re not in a league, you have to treat each game like a Super Bowl,” he said.
LCC has reached the second round of the playoffs the last two seasons, where it has been beaten by a Midwest Athletic Conference team – Marion Local last year and Coldwater in 2017.
“Our kids are hungry to go back to that point and try again. They’re a very motivated bunch,” Palte said.