Aquinas Catholic football is in the midst of the most successful decade in program history. The eight-time state champions have won half of that total in the last eight seasons.
Five times during the current run, the Monarchs have played in a title game. Were it not for a loss in the 2013 state championship, Aquinas would have been one of only four schools to have won five or more in a row.
Since 2010, the program has recorded 33 of its 67 all-time playoff wins. Needless to say, the Monarchs are no strangers to success.
Yet, after three years of losing in the quarterfinals, it seems Aquinas has hit a snag. With a No. 2 preseason ranking by the Lincoln Journal Star, it seems that snag might finally come undone.
But, of course, the program didn't get that way by thinking too far ahead.
"This year, I think hopefully it’s about like every year - a group that plays football on our level, the right way," coach Ron Mimmick, who's been at the school for 29 years, said last week after practice. "We want to be physical with a lot of emphasis on team work. Don’t make a lot of mistakes and things like that."
Aquinas is tied for fourth all-time in Nebraska with 11 appearances in state title games and tied for fifth with the eight championships.
Adding another to the case and equaling Lincoln Southeast, Howells and Creighton Prep with nine certainly seems in the cards for a team that returns nine offensive starters and eight regulars on the other side of the ball.
Aquinas was slightly inexperienced a year ago, playing six sophomores. That group will join a six-member senior group as one of the favorites in Class C-2. Bancroft-Rosalie-Lyons-Decatur opens at No. 1 also with nine back on offense and eight on defense. BRLD won the state basketball championship last winter.
"I feel like we have an experienced line both on the offense and defense," senior receiver and defensive back Braden Smith said. "We have a lot of kids that played last year a little bit. We have a little bit of depth. We have really athletic backs that can get outside. I think we can use that to our advantage."
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Kyle Napier will be taking over under center after serving a variety of roles last year, including leading rusher, sometimes quarterback and other times receiver.
But up front, where Owen Schramm is one of five who either started or played significant roles in 2018, may be where Aquinas distinguishes itself among the rest of the Class C-2 field.
"Our head coach always says the heart and soul of Aquinas football is our line, because it’s our most complex part of our offense," Schramm said. "Without a line you can’t really do anything else in football."
Schramm's grandpa, Marv Pelan, coaches the line for the Monarchs, a position he himself played decades ago. Pelan was wearing number 66 back then, the same one Schramm wears now.
"It’s kind of a legacy that I feel like it’s kind of a burden but it also gives me more motivation on the line," Schramm said. "Whenever me and my grandpa are together, most of the time the only thing we're talking about is football."
Aquinas opened last year 0-2 and was 2-3 after a loss to eventual state champion Centennial in Week 5. At the time, there was some concern that an 18-year run of playoff appearances was about to come to an end.
But once a group of sophomores, juniors and seniors began to find their stride, the Monarchs closed on a four-game winning streak. They scored 30 or more points in all four and more than 50 twice.
After a playoff win over Doniphan-Trumbull, Sutton running back Brett Simonsen rolled up 268 yards in five touchdowns, eliminating Aquinas by a score of 46-21.
"We don’t really talk a lot about (team goals)," Mimick said. "Their goal is to try to play well in our first game against a rival in Scotus. Down in their heads somewhere, our goal is to make the playoffs and make a run at the state championship."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at DVDsports@lee.net.