MILLER, MO - When your head coach says your team's strengths are "good experience at all positions" and "senior leadership" off a year when they went 9-1 during the regular season, you've got to think this year's team will be pretty good too. Which is why fans of the Miller Cardinals are very optimistic about 2012.
2011 record: 10-2 (lost to Skyline in second round of the playoffs)
Returning starters: 14
Players to watch: DE Jacob Lundquist, QB Dalton Gulick, RB Derrick Estell, OL-DL Kyle Davidson
Fourth year head coach Dustin Baldwin has 14 seniors providing leadership this season to a team that won 9 of 10 games in 2011 before losing to Skyline 54-34 in the second round of the playoffs. And considering the Cardinals had beaten Skyline in their previous meeting, you can bet those returning seniors will be looking to make amends in 2012.
"These guys are hungry to get to the next level," Baldwin said. "We've been on the fence as far as making it to the Dome (the Jones Dome, the site of the state championships in St. Louis). And I think that's what their goal is."
The Cardinals are led on defense by 6-2, 235-lb. defensive end Jacob Lundquist, who had over 20 tackles for lost yardage last season. The offense is led by quarterback Dalton Gulick, who accounted for over 3,000 yards passing and rushing with 42 touchdowns.
The only weakness? Baldwin says the team needs to stay healthy because there's very little experience behind his starters.
"Our junior class is small so we've got a lot of old players and a lot of young players with nothing in-between," he said. "There's a huge difference between our first-tier players and second-tier players and we need those second-tier guys to get bigger, stronger, and faster as quick as possible."
And while that 54-34 loss to Skyline is a motivation, it's also a cautionary tale to any hopes the Cardinals have of an extended post-season run.
"We had several games last year where we gave up way too many points," Baldwin recalls. "And if we really want to get where we want to be this year we'll have to go from being a good defense to being a great one."