It’s the beginning of a new era for Lima Central Catholic’s football team.
After four years of incredible runs by Shaun Thomas, crunching tackles by Rossy Moore and the sometimes more under the radar contributions of the other members of the class of 2021, the Thunderbirds will need to find some new ways to win football games this season.
It won’t be a drastic makeover. There is still considerable talent on LCC’s roster. But it will be different.
“We’ve watched Rossy and Shaun make a lot of plays. Now these guys are going to get their chance and we’ll see how they respond when the lights come on and they have the opportunity to carry the ball and make plays. We’ll see who steps up,” LCC coach Scott Palte said.
“We’ve got 10 seniors and 12 juniors so we have some good upperclass experience,” he said. “We have some weapons who were just waiting and they’re getting their opportunity to shine. These guys are excited for their chance.”
Thomas, the career rushing leader at LCC, is a preferred walk-on at the University of Cincinnati and Moore is part of the football program at NCAA Division III power Mount Union.
Players like quarterback Evan Unruh, running back Quintel Peoples, wide receiver Travis Hoyle Jr., offensive linemen Jacob Lauck and Kaelan Howard and defensive lineman Connor Gephart started or got significant playing time last season. Unruh, Peoples, Hoyle, Lauck and Howard also played defense and Gephart played sometimes on the offensive line. Offensive lineman Tyler Shipman also got some starts.
LCC finished 8-2 last season and got all the way to a Division VII state semifinal, where it lost 28-26 to eventual state champion New Bremen, even though Thomas missed the final three games of the season because of a broken foot.
That was not the only adversity the Thunderbirds faced in 2020. Two games into the season nine starters were ruled out of action for two weeks because of COVID-19 related issues.
“We had a very small stretch where we had everybody,” Palte said. “During a season you’re always building and I felt like we were always starting, stopping, starting, stopping. But they (non-starters forced to become starters) did a great job. Those kids who were juniors made a lot of big plays in our playoff games after Shaun went down. So I’m excited to see what they can do.”
Unruh threw for 1,054 yards and 11 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in eight games. Peoples rushed for 375 yards and 6 touchdowns and Hoyle had 17 catches for 340 yrds and 3 TDs.
It’s possible the pass could become a bigger part of LCC’s offense this season.
“We might tweak it a little. We might spread it out a little more, we might throw the ball a little more,” Palte said. “We’re excited that we have four offensive linemen who started games last year. The ball might be in the air a little more. We have some kids who we think fit our system and we can plug them in and take advantage of their skills.
“A lot of these guys played in a state semifinal. They’re confident. They’re winners. They’re excited to go out and show people we can still be a good football team.”
As an independent LCC will take several long road trips — to Licking Valley, to Willard, to Galion and to London to play against Fort Frye.
Maybe the most notable addition to the schedule is that LCC and Shawnee will face each other Aug. 19 at Shawnee. It will be the first time the two schools have played in football since 1986. The two schools played against each other every year between 1957 and 1986 except for two years in that stretch before the series ended.