Last season: 6-6 (sectional finalist)
Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)
Coach: Jay Novak, 9-13 in third year at school, 12-30 in fifth year overall
1. Dynamic Devonte Jones is back to wreak havoc all over the gridiron. In his junior year, he racked up 3,221 yards of total offense (1,561 passing, 1,660 rushing) to go with 33 touchdowns (15 passing, 18 rushing). He also had six interceptions and averaged 38.3 yards a punt. “He’s probably the best athlete I’ve ever coached and when I say athlete, it’s because he really can do everything,” Novak said. "Teams took him away early last season and we didn’t have the guys contributing, but by the end of the year, those guys were contributing with all the focus on Devonte. Teams have to account for him so much because if they don't, they're leaving themselves open to him doing a lot of damage."
2. The threat of Jones will open up the offense for guys like Sydrick Sinclair (34 carries, 384 yards), Tylee Rimmer (634 total yards, 12 total touchdowns) and Jordan Velez (13 catches, 221 yards). “Tylee and Jordan had really good offseasons,” Novak said. “We’re looking forward to them building off of that.”
3. On the offensive and defensive fronts, the Cardinals have especially got after it in the weight room. “The guys are hungry and it’s really caught fire with the team,” Novak said. “There was full cooperation with the strength program and we’re seeing it translate on the field.” Three offensive lineman return for the Cards — Leon Valdez (280), Jamari Jefferson (260) and James London (285) — and will be relied on to give Jones time to be the dynamic player that he is.
4. The Cards lose Charlie Cleveland, Malee Jackson and Zach Harris but still return seven starters. Jones and Rimmer will lead the secondary as Sinclair heads the linebacker unit. Jefferson and London will also see time on the defensive line. “Rimmer and Sinclair are guys who saw a lot of varsity minutes last year and are guys we can move all over the field defensively,” Novak said.
5. The defense will be looked to carry the load in the first few games as the Cardinals offense still looks to figure out what it really has. There are still a few things to figure out on the offensive line as well as receiver. “The defense is a little ahead of our offense and we’ll rely on them early on,” Novak said. “We have an idea at some places offensively, but there’s still some ‘tweeners to figure out.” — CJ Peters