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St. Thomas Aquinas Football survives changes, trending upward

The Alliance Review 
The 2010s was a decade of change for the St. Thomas Aquinas football program. 

It started with the hiring of Tim Budd as coach in 2011. Budd, one of three former St. Thomas former football players who returned to the school as coach during the previous decade, made an immediate impact, guiding the Knights to three consecutive playoff appearances. That playoff trip in 2011 also snapped the school’s 23-year postseason drought. 

During Budd’s coaching tenure, St. Thomas also switched from independent status to conference affiliation, joining the newly formed North Coast League small-school division. 

Budd left after 2014 for the coaching post at Jackson, but successor Badre Bardawil stepped in and guided the 2016 team into the second round of the playoffs. 

After leaving his coordinator’s post at Berea Midpark to become the coach in 2018, Mike Cook inherited a program which finished 1-9 in 2017, possessing small roster numbers and being part of a league on the verge of dissolution. 

With a small roster and an inexperienced team, St. Thomas finished 2-8 during Cook’s first season as coach. But he saw light at the end of the tunnel. 

“We increased our numbers [after 2018] and those kids worked hard in the weight room,” Cook said. “They were committed to having a good season.” 

That commitment turned into success. Crafting a competitive independent schedule while doubling as athletic director, Cook directed St. Thomas to a 7-4 record, which included a critical regular-season win over Warren JFK, a Division VII playoff berth and a 35-0 postseason win at Toronto. 

“We [originally] put together a 10-game schedule, but we lost our ninth game when the school dropped us due to their low numbers,” Cook said. “It was difficult for us as an independent last year to schedule games during the second half of the season, but we managed to move our [2018] 10th-week opponent [Gilmour Academy] up to our first game and add Canton South as the 10th game. While a nine-game regular-season schedule wasn’t ideal, it worked out because we had a chance to get [physically healed] during the ninth week and we added a Stark County school in that 10th week.” 

Working diligently to avoid any 2020 regular-season scheduling challenges, Cook finalized a 10-game slate which includes newcomers Northwestern, Campbell Memorial and Cuyahoga Heights and seven holdovers: East Canton, Rootstown, Western Reserve Academy, Kennedy, archrival Canton Central Catholic, Gilmour Academy and Canton South. 

Northwestern replaces Gilmour Academy as the opener. The Huskies, a member of the Wayne County Athletic League, will be traveling to Sirpilla Stadium, the Knights’ home venue. 

“I saw their head coach at a coaching convention and he told me they needed a first-week game and he wanted a one-year deal,” Cook said. “They didn’t mind they had to travel, so it was a great fit for us......”  Read More at The Alliance Review

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