Things did not go quite as expected for Lima Central Catholic last
season, but at the same time, things weren’t that bad either. The preseason pick of Ohio High and others to win the Division V crown,
Lima Central Catholic fell a little short of the lofty expectations
that were thrown in their lap. However, the Thunderbirds put together
another strong season, their third in a row with double-digit victories.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
DE Mike Tremoulis (5-10, 210, sr.), DE Michael Lombardo (5-10, 205, sr.), DL Drew Homan (5-8, 240, sr.), OLB Jacob Rigali (6-0, 185, jr.), CB Desi Kirkman (5-11, 155, jr.), QB Lance Helmig (6-0, 195, jr.), OT Matt Boatman (6-3, 325, sr.), RB Daniel Lombardo (5-9, 165, jr.)
2007 Record: 10-2, Regional semifinalist
Things did not go quite as expected for Lima Central Catholic last season, but at the same time, things weren’t that bad either.
The preseason pick of Ohio High and others to win the Division V crown, Lima Central Catholic fell a little short of the lofty expectations that were thrown in their lap. However, the Thunderbirds put together another strong season, their third in a row with double-digit victories.
“We went 10-2 as a team and we lost two games,” head coach Jerry Cooper said. “Both the teams we lost to played in the state semifinals. We lost to Bishop Ready 17-12 during the regular season, and then we lost in the second round of the playoffs to Patrick Henry. Both those teams were real good football teams. So I think you’d have to consider the season a success.
“We won ten football games and won our league outright. The only losses were to two real good football teams, but obviously it was disappointing from the standpoint that we thought we might have had a team that could compete at the top of Division V but fell short when playing against those really good teams.”
The team has taken many steps in building a winning tradition in recent years, with the next one being the ability to bring home a win against the best of the best in Division V.
“One of the things that’s happened here at Lima Central Catholic since I’ve been here is our kids have started to believe we can win,” Cooper said. “I’ve been here three years and we’ve been 32-6 in those three seasons, and I think our kids really believe we can win football games. That’s been a real positive for us is just establishing that winning tradition. One of the things I think we learned from last season was that those good teams, you have to be ready to play against. When you play those really good teams, you have to be ready to play excellent football. In both those games we lost, we had critical turnovers in those games that really swung the momentum of those football games.
“Hopefully our kids learned that winning tradition helps you get started, but when it comes to games, you have to play. You have to make plays and you have to eliminate turnovers. You have to execute really well – something that we weren’t able to do in those two really big games last season.”
Expectations aside, the Thunderbirds continue to be a great turnaround story. The team had been 15-35 in the five years prior to the arrival of head coach Jerry Cooper but since then have compiled a mark of 32-6.
“I think that speaks awfully well of how our kids have really transitioned this football program,” Cooper said. “They’ve done a good job of everything we ask of them, from working hard in the weight room to practicing and really installing our offensive and defensive philosophies and systems and trying to compete at the highest level. I can tell you, as a head coach I’m extremely proud of our kids and what they’ve been able to accomplish in the three years I’ve been here. Now the challenge will be, can we continue the successful trend that we’re on? We may not have as much raw talent that we’ve had in the past. We have to rely a little bit more on our system and our level of execution and our kids believing that winning tradition to really carry us through these next couple of seasons.”
This year, the Thunderbirds are a playoff contender again as the program returns a good core of experienced players and youth.
“We feel like we have a solid nucleus back,” Cooper said. “We have five starters back on the defensive side. We have four starters and three or four other young men who played for us on the offensive side, so we feel like we have a pretty good nucleus to build around. We had a real successful JV team last year; we only lost one JV game. Our freshmen were undefeated, so we have some building blocks. It’s going to be a matter of, can we take what we learned over the past three years and establish a real winning tradition with the young men we have still available?”
Last year’s team featured a mammoth offensive line and a skilled backfield, which factored into the game plan. But Lima Central Catholic discovered that other teams adjusted to that approach.
“We had a great big offensive line, so we knew real early that we were going to just try and knock people off the ball and run the ball,” Cooper said. “Well, pretty soon we saw all those people in the box and we were trying to use our quarterback to throw and loosen those people up there, but what happens when you creep up in that box like that, the pressure not only gets into the box but then they attack you. One of the difficulties was him handling the pressure that people sent. They would just blitz us in every gap and send a gap A type defense after us every down. That made it difficult to make to both run and throw the ball. But give our kids credit – we found a way to win ten games, and really both the teams that beat us were really nice football teams. Don’t take anything away from those guys; those guys were good.”
This year, Cooper hopes to open up the offense some more with an improved passing attack while continuing with a strong defensive attack.
“One of the things I think our team strength will be is we have a little bit of speed, and I think we have some good skill kids,” Cooper said. “One of the things we have to do better is we’ve got to throw the ball a little bit better and be a little bit more balanced offensively. In the last three years, we got to be pretty unbalanced. We’ve been predominantly run, and what I’d like to do is balance that up and be a little bit more wide open offensively. Then things that I’d like to continue to do that we’ve been doing is we’ve played pretty good defense. We’ve been around 9 points per game given up in each of the last three years. If you can keep your opponents under two touchdowns, that puts you in every football game. We really have to see if we can continue to play the good defense that we’ve played and get a little more balanced on the offensive side.”
As was the case last year, the Thunderbirds will face a challenging regular season schedule.
“We play the exact same teams we played last year,” Cooper said. “We play Division VI Delphos St. John’s, who’s a perennial state power. Then our other non-league game is Columbus Bishop Ready, who was obviously an excellent team last year and played in the state semifinals. Those are our two non-league games, and then in the Northwest Conference, which is our league, there’s been four or five really good football teams.
“Last year, Ada, one of the small school Division VI teams in our league played in the Division VI semifinals. Columbus Grove has had real good football tradition; they’re pretty good. Delphos Jefferson and Spencerville – Spencerville was a playoff team from two years ago, and so was Allen East. So we play in a pretty good, competitive league, and we feel like that helps us compare to be a good football team for the playoffs, but we’ve got to be ready to play week after week in our league or you can’t win enough games to get in the playoffs. Naturally, the challenge for us is to see if we can approach the teams in our league with the idea we have to win enough games to get in the playoffs and compete at the top of our league, and if you do that, the Northwest Conference champion’s almost always in.”
And of course, if the Thunderbirds return to the postseason, the goal will be to get a win against one of the big boys.
“One of the things we’ve got to continue to do is compete real well, not only in our league, but when we get a chance to get into those playoffs,” Cooper said. “In the three years I’ve been here, we won two playoff games the first year and then won two more the next year and then one more this year. We’ve won five playoff games, and that’s a pretty good barometer of where you’re program’s at is how do you do when you get into the playoffs. We’re 5-3 in the playoffs since I’ve been here. We lost to a real good Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy team in the first year; they played in the state championship game. Our second year, we lost to St. Henry, who won the state title, and then this year, we lost to Patrick Henry, who lost to Marion Local, who lost in the state semifinals.
“From a coaching standpoint, I think our barometer is I hope that we’re close to being able to compete with the top of Division V, but at the same time, we’ve had a chance to go toe-to-toe with those teams that are really elite, and we haven’t been able to get over the top and beat those teams.”
8/23 @ ST JOHN’S (DELPHOS)
8/29 CRESTVIEW (CONVOY)
9/5 @ PAULDING
9/12 @ COLUMBUS GROVE
9/20 JEFFERSON (DELPHOS)
9/26 @ SPENCERVILLE
10/3 @ BISHOP READY (COLUMBUS)
10/18 ALLEN EAST
10/24 @ ADA