Cardinal Mooney alums are everywhere
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – On any given fall Saturday, a few clicks of the television remote can take a college football fan from coast to coast, conference to conference, for a variety of games, plays, coaches and characters.
Most of those channels show Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School alumni playing, and coaching.
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These Mooney guys are everywhere.
Nebraska’s trip to Ohio State on Saturday night puts the connections into the spotlight, as Nebraska coach Bo Pelini brings his team, with three Mooney alums on the roster and two Mooney graduates as assistant coaches, into Ohio Stadium to face the Buckeyes, and defensive end John Simon, one of Ohio State’s best players.
Take a guess where Simon went to high school.
It’s the same place the Stoops Brothers played. Bob Stoops, head coach at Oklahoma, joins Bo Pelini and his brother, Carl (Florida Atlantic head coach) as Mooney graduates who are currently head coaches at the Division I FBS level. After spending the last eight years as Arizona’s head coach, Mike Stoops is now his older brother’s defensive coordinator in Norman.
Last summer, a bunch of the guys now recognizable from their coaching gigs came back to Mooney for the annual youth camp, appropriately dubbed the “Camp of Champions.” In between station work involving a couple hundred kids, Bo Pelini and Mike Stoops chatted with P.J. Fecko, who’s won four state championships since taking over as the Mooney head coach in 2000. On another field, Kansas City Chiefs safety Kyle McCarthy threw passes to aspiring young Cardinals. Vince Marrow, who coaches tight ends at Nebraska, was catching up with old friends.
There’s no bench press or 40-yard dash requirement involved with the school’s entrance exam, but there’s something about this fraternity that’s allowed so many to get to — and thrive in — the highest levels of football.
“We were brought up the right way,” Bo Pelini said. “How we were coached is obviously part of it and that shaped us, but it’s more. The tradition of Cardinal Mooney football and all the winning and all the places we are now, it’s a tribute to a lot of hard work. It’s a culture, it’s a discipline, it’s values you learn.”
Pelini said he’s been back for every Camp of Champions since the event started in 2002, and that he’s been able to make it back to Youngstown every summer going back even further. He knows he can find football players at Mooney and has two of them verbally committed to come to Nebraska in 2013.
“This isn’t about recruiting coming back here,” Pelini said. “I’ve always come back here. I don’t think I’ve missed a year in a long time. This place means a lot to me as it does a lot of other people, as you see. It’s great to give back and come back. It’s a great reunion.”
The Brothers Pelini and Stoops played under legendary coach Don Bucci, who won 309 games and four state championships at Mooney during his tenure from 1966-1999. Those were hard-nosed, fundamentally-sound Mooney teams that liked to run the ball as a first, second and third priority, usually out of a stack-I formation with three backs in the backfield.
Over the last decade, Mooney teams started to go away from the stack-I — though it’s still in the playbook — and started to operate of more spread formations that included the use of the shotgun. Winning with the run is still Mooney’s first priority, but at first the shift was darn near football blasphemy.
“It was definitely different,” Penn State senior fullback Michael Zordich said. “We went shotgun, but at first we still had three backs in the backfield. It didn’t make sense, really, but it worked.”
The trend of brothers — by blood and by bond — at Mooney has continued in recent years. In a game last September, Penn State drove for the winning score against Temple primarily using a backfield that had both Michael Zordich and Brandon Beachum, longtime friends and Mooney teammates. Michael’s younger brother, Alex, is the quarterback at the University of Buffalo. Their father, former NFL player Michael Zordich, coached at Mooney from 2003-08 and has spent the last four years on the Philadelphia Eagles staff.
Kyle and Danny McCarthy were both Mooney quarterbacks. Kyle is on injured-reserve with the Kansas City Chiefs after playing at Notre Dame, and Danny is a senior safety at Notre Dame. There could be a scenario Saturday night with Simon tackling Braylon Heard, a Nebraska running back and another Mooney alum.
Three Stoops Brothers went from playing football at Mooney to playing at the University of Iowa, where in 2010, another Mooney graduate, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, became Iowa’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. Among the other Mooney graduates who have recently had success at higher levels of football — and this is no attempt to name them all — are Ishmaily Kitchen, a rookie defensive tackle with the Cleveland Browns; Pitt safety Ray Vinopal; Toledo punter Vince Penza; two more current Nebraska players, Tim Marlowe and Mark Pelini, and Desmond Marrow, who was in two NFL training camps last summer after playing at Toledo.
Not surprisingly, all credit Mooney for their success. The winning recruits itself, success carries over and Mooney has been so good lately that the standards keep getting even higher.
“It’s a tradition, but it’s also a mindset,” Michael Zordich said. “It’s like winning and winning big is the only option. You’re surrounded by great players and great coaches. There’s a special bond there.”
Said Kyle McCarthy: “The coaches do a great job of focusing on the next game and the little improvements. Looking back now, yeah, we had great players and we all pushed each other to become even greater. When you’re in it, though, you’re just consumed with keeping things rolling, doing the little things it takes to win. Believe me, we worked for everything we won.”
After his playing career at Ohio State (1987-91), Bo Pelini coached as a graduate assistant at Iowa, then came back to Mooney as quarterbacks coach for one year. He was then hired by the San Francisco 49ers, who also have deep Mooney ties. Former owner Eddie DeBartolo and his sister, current owner Denise DeBartolo York, are Mooney graduates.
All of the Stoops Brothers grew up with Mooney Football. Their father, Ron Stoops Sr. died in 1988, having suffered a heart attack while coaching a Mooney game. The Mooney baseball facility which sits behind the school and the football practice field, is named in his honor. Ron Stoops Jr., like his dad, was a longtime Mooney defensive coordinator.
Mark Stoops is the defensive coordinator at Florida State. Tim Beck is the offensive coordinator at Nebraska … the list goes on.
Next April, Simon could become Mooney’s highest NFL Draft pick. Like many of his high school teammates and Mooney-connected friends, Simon was born into it — his father is a Mooney grad. Simon grew up watching Mooney games, picturing himself playing in them and following in the footsteps of the players and coaches who came before him.
“The football gets in your blood,” Simon said. “And as you get older, you’re driven to match what the guys before you did. You want to win always, but you really don’t want to be part of letting down such a great tradition.”
At the Camp of Champions last summer, many of the young participants wore Mooney t-shirts. Some were dressed in Ohio State gear, and one wore a Nebraska jersey. They sprinted around the turf, and many of them flocked to Courtney Love, a manchild of a linebacker and one of two Mooney players committed to play at Nebraska last season.
“The fast kid in the Nebraska jersey is Braylon Heard’s little brother,” Love said. “Just keep your eye on him. He’s going to be good, too.”
To the surprise of no one who’s familiar, the Mooney tradition rolls on.