The Holy Cross football team is back on a level playing field.
Year in, year out, the Indians are consistently on the edge of the Class A/2A enrollment numbers. From 2007-22, they were in Class 2A. In 2023, the Indians are back down to 1A.
“We’ve had 180 or fewer boys in the high school the last five years. Somehow we got into 2A and I don’t know how that happened,” Indians coach Bruce Kozerski said. “Playing the Lloyd’s or Beechwood’s, those teams are much bigger numbers-wise. It’s hard to play teams that two-platoon us and we can’t be effective in the fourth quarter playing those teams. We have maybe 30 kids annually.”
To put it even further into perspective, Holy Cross had 18 active players when they took on Beechwood last season on Oct. 7, a 55-3 loss to the Tigers.
Kozerski enters his 20th year at the helm, the longest tenured coach in Northern Kentucky.
“Amazing really. Can’t believe it’s been that long. Every year is new and exciting,” Kozerski said.
In a new class and new district, the Indians feel they’ll have a more competitive product out on the field than the 2-9 team in 2022, outscored 342-174. They graduated just four seniors and have eight seniors back mixed in with what Kozerski labels a “strong young group” of players.
Senior quarterback Donovan Ambrocio didn’t start until Week 5 last season, but the aerial attack for the Indians took off from there. Ambrocio threw for 301 yards against Newport Central Catholic in that Week 5 contest, a state semifinalist in 2022, and finished with 1,030 yards passing in seven games played under center.
“At that point in the season last year we hadn’t been able to throw it. We need to continue to build on that. With the receivers we have and the way we’re working and protecting up front, we’re very excited about the passing game,” Kozerski said.
Sophomore Thomas Maddox will also slot in some at quarterback.
Trevin Figgs returns at running back, Figgs getting 50 carries for 197 yards and four touchdowns in his freshman season. He’ll also have Ulysses Porter to get some reps at the position, another youthful back.
Out wide, Kozerski is confident in receivers Davonte Ryan and Andrew Bales as they both enter their senior year. They’ll both be counted on in the defensive backfield as well.
Up front, the offensive line will be spearheaded by three-year starter Tyler Luster. Zach Chalfin and Littello Johnson will be joining him as a strong core to build around as Kozerski is confident in deploying four to five others up front.
Kozerski, who’s no stranger to offensive line play when he was making holes for the Bengals from 1984-95, knows what needs to be done in that area.
“If I do my part and figure out what they’re good and bad at, we can program the offense and defense to complement them,” Kozerski said.
Other players to watch include kicker Will Fisk, a senior Kozerski said he’s confident in rolling out for 40-45 yard field goals. Cooper Ward is another to watch, playing his first season last year and has continued to progress.
“This is one of the best balanced teams in terms of emotions and discipline and how they handle practice and scrimmage,” Kozerski said. “You look at this group as intelligent and disciplined in their daily life which is significant for a group this size and that age.”
Defensively, they’ll look to improve from the 31 points and 312 yards per game surrendered last season. The names mentioned up front on the offensive line will be flipped to the defensive line as well and play a big part in stopping the run game.
“It starts from front to back. It starts with the defensive front stopping the run game so we don’t need secondary up front to do that. You need to police the running game with your defensive front, which then means better coverage,” Kozerski said. “It’s why our passing defense struggled last year, defensive backs had to come up in the box and make tackles. That happens and eventually they start throwing over your heads.”
The Indians will be in a district with Bishop Brossart, Ludlow and Trimble County, a little bit of a different landscape than seeing Beechwood, Lloyd Memorial and Newport.
Prior to getting into district action, they’ll take on three Ohio teams, Dohn Community (Aug. 25), Middletown Christian (Sept. 8) and Cincinnati College Prep Academy (Sept. 15) with Sayre (Aug. 18), Grant County (Sept. 1) and Morgan County (Sept. 29) mixed in before closing the regular season with Newport.
“Anything across the river you’re playing a different animal. Ohio football is different, you go over to that part of the woods and learn something from it,” Kozerski said. “We’re excited about our talent and looking forward to seeing what happens. We have a tremendous amount of optimism for our kids.”
The last time Holy Cross finished above .500 was in 2016 and a trip to the state semifinals, they’ve gone 10-54 since. Now with a drop down to 1A and in a more competitive district, those fortunes could change quickly.
DATE OPPONENT SITE TIME
Aug 18, 23 Sayre home 7:00 PM Aug 25, 23 Dohn Community (Cincinnati), OH home 7:00 PM Sep 1, 23 Grant County away 7:00 PM Sep 8, 23 Middletown Christian (Franklin), OH home 7:00 PM Sep 15, 23 Cincinnati College Prep Academy (Cincinnati), OH away 7:00 PM Sep 29, 23 Morgan County home 7:30 PM Oct 6, 23 Bishop Brossart away 7:00 PM Oct 13, 23 Trimble County home 7:00 PM Oct 20, 23 Ludlow away 7:00 PM Oct 27, 23 Newport home 7:00 PM