Cardinal Newman began the season with something to prove to its competitors in SCISA Class 3A football and, five weeks in, the Cardinals have made their point.
Starting 3-1, coach Brannon Tidwell and the Cardinals have changed the perception of their program.
“I felt like people thought it was a fluke last year, they didn’t think we should have won some of the games we won,” senior running back Zakki Parker said. The Cardinals won four games in 2012, Tidwell’s and Parker’s first season with the team, and qualified for the playoffs.
“We’re starting a new thing at Cardinal Newman,” said Parker, a running back who averages 121 yards per game and has scored five touchdowns for the Cardinals. “We’re not going to be pushovers like people thought; we’re going to continue to fight. We’re not going to just lay down.”
Tidwell said the early season success was gratifying.
“The strong start is key because it validates what we’ve done for the past 14 months, and motivated the guys, because what we’re doing is working,” he said.
“It also helped the confidence, because we’ve hit some hurdles, too.
For instance, the Cardinals managed an overtime victory, in the season opener against North Central, something that had not been accomplished in at least five seasons.
And in the Laurence Manning game, in which the Cardinals found themselves trailing 13-0 after five minutes.
“Another team, in years past, that becomes a blowout,” Tidwell said. But this year’s Cardinals rallied, pushing ahead 14-13 before falling 21-14.
And then, the day before the Cardinals’ game against Augusta Christian, Lions coach Keith Walton spoke with Tidwell on the phone.
“I asked if their best running back was going to be playing and he said ‘he could have been back (from injury) last week, but we needed him against Cardinal Newman,’ ” Tidwell remembered.
“That says it all,” he said. “We proved that we are a different team. When teams see our film now, they know we’re not an easy win.”
Senior running back and linebacker Evan DuBois said the Cardinals were inspired over the offseason to work harder than ever.
“We showed something to everybody last season, but we weren’t where we wanted to be yet. We worked hard because we wanted to show the underclassmen that anything can happen as long as you believe,” said DuBois, who has 31 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery touchdown, as well as two offensive touchdowns.
With leaders such as Parker and DuBois, the Cardinals can be confident in their continued success.
But, Parker said, “The coaches keep us level-headed and humble. It feels good, the start we’ve gotten, but it doesn’t give us the big head, because we know that anybody can be beaten.”
And though the Cardinals feel they have laid a solid foundation for their future, they will continue to work.
“You’re never going to be satisfied,” Tidwell said. “We want to keep getting better every week, every Friday night.”