SHEFFIELD — After a promising 4-2 start to the 2011 season, Brookside suffered through a stretch of 14 straight losses by an average of 30 points.
You wouldn’t know about the losing streak the way Cardinals players and coaches talk about the 2013 season.
Brookside has 18 returning starters — nine on each side of the ball — and two additional weapons that missed the 2012 season, resulting in players being thrown into new positions and taking away some strategic opportunities for the Cardinals.
One returning player is kicker Brandon Bellman, who missed last year after tearing his ACL in a pole-vaulting mishap the spring of his sophomore year.
Bellman sports a full knee brace on his kicking leg, but has been consistent up to 47 yards on field goal attempts, showing why he was an All-Ohio third-team selection after his sophomore season.
“After losing Brandon, it changed the whole way we had to play the game last year,” Brookside coach Thom Lesiecki said. “If we got close to scoring, we always had to go for it on fourth down and we simply weren’t that successful converting.
“Now if we get down to the opponent’s 30(-yard line), Brandon can go out there and give us a chance to put points on the board. That’s a definite advantage we had over last year.”
Bellman also can put the ball into the end zone on kickoffs, allowing the Cardinals defense to start at the 20 instead of farther down the field like the 2012 season.
“We were all down about last year, but it’s a new season,” Bellman said. “We have a lot of good guys back from last year and adding Arin (Pruitt) and myself back to the team can only help make us better.”
Arin Pruitt led Brookside in rushing his sophomore year but moved last season to Bradenton, Fla., where he was a starting linebacker at Manatee High School.
Manatee was the 18th-ranked team in the country in the final USA Today poll after a 13-1 season and a trip to the state semifinals.
To say that Pruitt learned a lot about football while in Florida would be an understatement.
“It was like walking into a college my junior year,” Pruitt said. “It was like a Division III school. Everyone was fast and when I first went to summer weightlifting, everyone was ripped and had six packs.
“It was a real eye-opener playing against Division I recruits every week. It made me so much better from (my sophomore season at Brookside). I’m a different player now and I’m way more positive about myself and my team.”
Pruitt will be one of the weapons in the Pistol Wing-T along with senior Jake Morgan, giving Brookside two potential big-game runners. It’s a gift for Lesiecki.
“Opposing teams are going to have to figure out which of the runners to stop each week,” Lesiecki said. “The kids have worked harder than ever getting ready for the coming season and we don’t even think about the fact that we did not win a game last year.
“We did, however, remind the players about last season. After every workout we did an extra 459 seconds of cross-fit training — one second for every point gave up last year.”
The coaching staff may not have used 0-10 as a motivating tool, but the players did amongst themselves.
“We have some big kids this year and we all put in a lot of extra effort in the weight room,” Morgan said. “Every time we were ready to quit, someone would mention 0-10 and we would keep working to make sure that didn’t happen again.”
Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or email@example.com.