A season ago, the Bishop Ludden football team began with high ambition, plenty of senior talent and a belief that it could reach a championship level.
What no one, not even head coach John Cosgrove, could have anticipated was the Gaelic Knights surviving a series of dramatic post-season battles that culminated Nov. 25, 2007 in the Carrier Dome with a win over Dobbs Ferry and the team's first-ever state Class C championship.
Winning its final 12 games, Ludden relied on the immense gifts of three special seniors -- quarterback Connor Sweeney, running back Daquan Grobsmith and wide receiver Wendall Williams -- along with a supporting cast that came up with all the clutch plays at all the right moments.
Now, going into 2008, Sweeney, Grobsmith and Williams are gone. But Cosgrove said the players that returned have a different, more confident attitude about themselves.
"It (the state title) changes the kids' expectations," he said. "They now want different things for themselves. Having been to the top of the mountain, they feel like they know how to get there."
One of the Gaelic Knights' primary tasks is finding someone that could succeed Sweeney, a three-year starter under center who set every conceivable Ludden passing record.
In junior John Rooney (who played wide receiver a year ago), Cosgrove has a proven athlete at the varsity level in three different sports, most notably baseball, where he is a highly-prized college prospect at shortstop. As such, Rooney possesses speed and a strong arm, both assets that could prove handy.
No single player will succeed Grobsmith, Ludden's all-time leading rusher. Instead, junior Omar Osbourne will see a majority of the carries, while Devin White assumes a larger role and freshman Malik Merritt brings a sprinter's speed and big-play capability to the field.
Mark DeAngelis faces a daunting task, as the junior steps up and fits into the primary receiving role Williams mastered, with help from E. J. Beauford. Rooney might find that 6-4, 240-pound tight end Chris Davis is his most reliable target -- Davis certainly creates matchup problems for any opposing defense.