YOUNGSTOWN - Last year was both a year to remember and one to forget for Cardinal Mooney starting quarterback Jon Saadey.
The good part was Saadey helped lead the Cardinals to an 11-5 record and an appearance in their seventh state championship game in 10 years.
Unfortunately for Mooney, the end of the 2013 season became one single game to forget.
In the Division IV state championship game against Clinton-Massie, the Cardinals built a seven-point lead (21-14) going into halftime, but the Falcons came firing back in the second half and scored 13 unanswered points. The Cardinals never recovered from the late rally and fell to the Falcons, 27-21.
Saadey tried to push the loss out of his head, but the sting of defeat stayed with him until the start of the 2014 season. Once training camp launched this summer, Saadey retooled, refocused and reenergized in order to turn the page and prepare for the next chapter in his high school football career.
"He's excited right now to get this season going," Cardinal Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said. "He's a senior and he wants to get after it and get things going."
Even though last season's state championship game left bad taste in his mouth, Saadey still ruminates the loss and intends to convert that disappointment into motivation moving forward.
"As hard as I try, I can't not think about it, but I think once the first game starts, it'll be out of our heads and we'll be ready to go," Saadey said.
Saadey's goals and expectations haven't changed from last year. Anything less than a second straight state championship appearance will be considered a failure.
"Our ultimate goal is to get to state, no questions asked, no way around it," Saadey said. "For myself, I want to be a better player and better teammate than I was last year. I worked hard this season and I worked hard with all these guys and I really think we can have a special year."
Mooney coach P.J. Fecko's expectations are just as high as his starting quarterback's. He is confident in Saadey's ability to lead the offense and deliver the same results
"I expect him to lead the team and put us in good situations to win the game," Fecko said. "He's done everything he needs to do at this point to be successful."
Saadey became Mooney's starting quarterback at the end of the 2012 season. He passed for 500 yards in an offense that predominantly leaned on a strong running game. In just one year, Saadey made great strides as Mooney's man under center in 2013. Last year as a junior, he broke his father's passing yardage record, putting up 1,370 yards through the air.
If Saadey can break school records and guide a team to a state championship game as a junior, Fecko expects even more from him this season.
"It's obviously a difficult position to step into as a young guy, but he's done a great job, he's a good athlete, a sound athlete and a really good football player, so I think that he's done a great job over the years of increasingly getting better as time goes on, and we expect him to be even better this year than he was last year," Fecko said.
Saadey will be in good company with a lot of talented weapons at his disposal this season. His arsenal includes a star-studded cast of explosive running backs and receiving playmakers.
Mooney's running backs will be led by Division-I recruit C.J. Amill and Kentucky prospect Jordan Jones. Amill has really progressed over the past two seasons, going from a sophomore who accepted seven handoffs for 33 yards to a junior who averaged 6.4 yards per carry and accumulated 1,277 yards.
Jones, best-known for his first-team all-state honors, will also help open up the pass taking handoffs out of the backfield or catching passes from the wideout slot.
"I think all the running backs with C.J. Amill, Jordan Jones and Anthony Gill carrying the ball will help matters, and they're all really good receivers coming out of the backfield," Fecko said. "Then you throw in Chris Mitchell and Andy Armstrong, so those are just a few guys he's going to be able to go to throw some receptions."
The Cardinals will play top teams like St. Vincent-St. Mary, but Saadey said St. Edwards will be his biggest test this season. Last season the Cardinals lost to the Eagles 54-14 two years ago and 41-14 last season. If history serves Saadey correct, Mooney's showdown with St. Edwards will be a telling benchmark of where the Cardinals stand as they reach the pinnacle of the 2014 campaign.
"If we can size up against them, we can play against anyone," Saadey said.