A veteran group of Cavaliers, led by junior quarterback Elliott Gilardi, looks to build on last season’s success with a deep run into November.
Sidney—Dick Roll didn’t take long to consider the question.
Are you still having fun?
“I’m getting older,” Roll, beginning his 12th season as head coach of the Lehman Cavaliers, said with a laugh. “I do still enjoy it. We coaches are just like the players. You do this to get to Friday nights under the lights. That’s what you work for.”
The Cavaliers’ work in Roll’s 11 seasons has indeed been impressive. Lehman is 86-42 overall since 2006, a .672 winning percentage. The Cavs have been to the post-season 8 times, compiling a 9-8 mark.
The Cavaliers head to West Liberty-Salem for their first scrimmage tomorrow with 36 players on the roster, a full third of which are seniors.
“It’s been a good camp so far,” said the coach as he relaxed outside the Lehman locker room Monday evening between practices. “We are making progress. Our season will be based on what our seniors want to do. Sometimes they think they know it all, but they do know a lot because they have been through it.”
Last year’s 7-4 campaign began with a 21-20 loss to defending state champion Fort Recovery and a lopsided loss to Minster. The Wildcats also ended the Cavs season in week 11.
“We were disappointed with the opener,” Roll said, looking back. “Not with the way we played, but we had some chances and didn’t take advantage of them. We could have, and maybe should have, won that game. Then we went to Minster and just didn’t play well.
“The Minster loss was devastating because we thought we would be in that game, and never were. But the kids were resilient. We told them you have to go out and play the next game, and they did a great job of staying focused and turned things around.”
Those early losses continued an interesting aspect of Roll’s tenure at Lehman. The Cavs are just 3-19 during the first two weeks of the season, and have never won an opening night game.
“You have to play good teams early to get your team ready for down the road,” Roll said, shaking his head. “We are 0-11 in openers since I have been here. That’s why we were disappointed with the Recovery game last season. You just have to grow with it and move on.
“We have been fortunate,” Roll went on. “We have had some good players, and I have a good coaching staff. I let them coach. It’s been a good system for us, and has worked out well.”
It’s always nice to have an experienced signal caller, and that the Cavaliers have. Elliott Gilardi started all ten games last season as a sophomore; and showed signs of his resilience and competitive instinct in that Minster loss, attributes that paid dividends later in the season. Down by multiple touchdowns in the second half, Gilardi kept throwing the football, even in the face of a fierce Minster rush that had him taking big hits and scrambling for his life. He’s no worse for the wear as he tunes up for his junior season.
“Things are going well so far,” Gilardi said as he finished a between-practices sandwich. “Our energy level is definitely up. We have almost everybody back, so we are excited for the season to start.”
“We weren’t happy with the way the season ended,” he continued, referring to the playoff loss at Minster. ”But it definitely has carried over to this season. It’s really been motivation during the off-season to get better and get back to the playoffs.
“The biggest difference from last season is our strength. We had a better off-season. There were more kids in the weight room and we are definitely stronger than we were a year ago.”
“We thought Elliott was the best quarterback in our league last year, and he didn’t even get any mention,” said Gilardi’s coach. “He’s a good passer, he runs well, he works hard, and he does what’s asked of him.
“I think his arm is stronger this year. He has always had a quick release, but I think his ball has a little more zip on it this year.
“And he is a leader. I don’t think of a leader as a guy who will jump down somebody’s throat. He leads by example. He wins the sprints, and does as well as anyone with our tackling drills. He listens and does what we ask him to, and that’s a true leader.”
Gilardi said last season’s experience has been a bonus this summer.
“Being the quarterback last year as a sophomore was really stressful, especially early in the season. Once I got through the first few games, I felt more confident in being in the huddle. That’s definitely been a plus this season, having that experience under my belt. I am much more comfortable this season.”
Gilardi is the unquestioned starter at quarterback, but the junior is taking nothing for granted.
“I think I am calmer than I was last season, but I still have to go out every day and work. You want everyone to see that you are willing to do the work, so I feel like I have to go out and show that every day.
A week and a day into pre-season camp, Roll is pleased with what he has seen.
“So far, our work effort has been very good. We had one day last week that wasn’t very good, and the first practice tonight was pretty sloppy. But that happens with every team. They are working hard and getting better.”
The Cavaliers are members of the Northwest Central Conference, a league that Roll said is improving as a football conference.
“We had two teams make the playoffs last year (Lehman and Upper Scioto Valley) and Riverside just missed.(9th) The year before three made it (Lehman, Riverside, Fort Loramie) and Upper just missed (9th). The football is improving. Unfortunately, Fort Loramie jumped to the CCC but adding Marion Elgin will add to the league.
“There are still some games that aren’t very stressful, but there are several games that you really have to prepare for. Add our non-league games to the mix, and we feel like it’s a schedule that gets us ready for the post-season. “
Heading into the pre-season scrimmages, Roll said his team has several things to accomplish before opening the season August 25th at Fort Recovery.
“We have to jell as a team; we have to stay healthy. We have to see how the line is going to come together. We have a couple of linebacker spots that we need to fill. Those are the things we are looking for the next couple of weeks.
“Overall, I feel good about this team. We have some athletes on this team. We have 4 or 5 players that could play college ball if they wanted too. The kids have been working hard. It’s been a good camp, and we just have to keep it rolling.”