What does the future hold for Stritch football?

Yaneek Smith

Press Contributing Writer

As we all know by now, Cardinal Stritch did not field a football team for the 2022 season. These decisions are never easy, but it was the right one.
“The reality of this decision was ultimately geared towards the safety of the athletes,” said Tim Croak, a 1978 graduate of Stritch who serves as a board member at the school. “You need to have at least 25 athletes to field a team, and with the graduation of 10 players from last year's team and other players who left the program for a combination of reasons, this minimum number was not attained.
“An important part of our pledge is to do better by our alumni and make sure that our commitments are absolute. Everyone must buy into the attitude of excellence and that Cardinal Stritch is a leader in academics, sports, and most importantly, a great place for children in every grade to grow in every aspect of their life,” he said.
Playing football on Friday nights is like religion (no pun intended) in Ohio, and the school intends to have a team in 2023.
“Cardinal Stritch fully intends to compete in (football) in the TAAC again beginning fall of 2023,” said Kelly O’Loughlin, the marketing and community relations director. “We are currently seeking to hire a (new coach) who can take this unique opportunity to immediately strengthen and build up the Stritch football program from the academy level to the varsity (program).
“Since 1961, when the first Stritch football team began competing, football has always been a part of the athletic program at (the school),” O’Loughlin said.
In the last four seasons, the Cardinals, under the direction of Gene Rucker for two years and Bryan Dudash for two years, went 18-18, so the potential for success is there. Last year, Stritch went 5-3 and 2-2 in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, good enough to finish 10th in Division IV, Region 22 and qualify for the playoffs.
“It’s all conjecture on my part, but I sure hope (they field a team next year),” said Rick Kaifas, the commissioner of the TAAC. “Remember when SMU got the death penalty in football and never really came back? I’m not sure if Stritch will be able to come back. They’re a major force in our league for all sports.”
It’s unlikely that Stritch would ever play 8-man football, at least in the near future, but it is becoming more popular. Today, there are five schools in the Northern 8 Football Conference: Danbury, a former TAAC member, Holgate, Stryker, Sandusky St. Mary Central Catholic and fellow TAAC school, Toledo Christian. (SMCC is hoping to eventually return to 11-man football.)
Mike Blazevich, who graduated from Stritch in 2012 before continuing his football career at the University of Toledo, talked about the memorable experiences he had playing football for the Cardinals.
“My experience was a really, really good one. When I got there, the program had been going downhill a little bit. My freshman year, we went 1-9, and my sophomore year, we went 1-9 or 2-8. For my sophomore and junior seasons, we had the same coach, Joe Gutilla, and we improved to 4-6 my junior year,” said Blazevich, who currently works as an accountant for Marathon Petroleum Corporation in Findlay. “I had a really fun time meeting a lot of new friends and playing in great environments in Northwest Ohio. I’ve been in a lot of basketball arenas and baseball (stadiums), but there’s nothing like football. Whether you’re on a good team or a bad team, you need to play as hard as possible. If somebody had told me I’d be playing football at Toledo when I was in high school, I wouldn’t have thought that was going to happen. It’s so important for young kids to have athletics.
“I just felt for any kid that was in the program, especially juniors and seniors, after hearing they wouldn’t have a team (this season). It’s a tough time for the kids, for sure,” he said.
Football taught Blazevich to appreciate his friends and persevere through the struggles, he said.
“I had a lot of fun,” he said. “Playing football taught me to continue to push and make friends and be the best you can be, whether you win one game or the state championship. It’s made me better as a person.
“We had a great president, great staff and football coaches that pushed us to be great academically,” he added.
Blazevich played with some fellow greats like David Syzmanski, Aaron Manders and Christian Peters. They served as mentors for him, and the group still stays in touch.
“I’d say one of the best players at Stritch was David Szymanski. He was a sophomore when I was a freshman, and he was very inviting. And Aaron Manders, those two helped me early in my career,” said Blazevich. “You need somebody who’s a mentor to you as a freshman. He wore the No. 2 and he gifted that to me, that was my favorite number.
“Then Christian Peters, who’s one of my best friends today, came from Genoa after junior high and he transferred to Stritch. Christian and I would look at each other after a loss and see some of the guys laughing and not taking things seriously, and that wasn’t the time for that,” he said. “We tried to carry the program. Without football, I don’t think Christian and I would be friends. That athletic experience is so important.”


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