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Feisty practices, chippy scrimmages, nine months of pent-up frustration and top-tier talent all over the field. That about sums up the Cardinal Ritter football team.

This is the most complete team Brandon Gregory has had in his three years at the helm of the Lions. Expectations have never been higher.

“We had a lot of momentum rolling off of last year,” Gregory said. “The guys worked extremely hard this offseason. I'm anxious to see how that turns out for us this year.”

The Lions went 9-2 last season, but those two losses came to Trinity. The first was a 57-0 drubbing that let the Titans claim the Archdiocesan Athletic Association crown. The second came in the a Class 2 District 2 semifinal. It wasn't as lopsided with a 28-7 final score, but the result was the same.

Trinity went on to play for the district title. Ritter went out in the district semifinal for the second consecutive season.

“Losing to the same team twice, it gives you fuel to go harder,” senior defensive back Keith Jones said. “At least we had a winning season. It felt better, but not going farther is the part that hurt.”

These Lions are geared up to make a run. The offensive line returns three juniors who all started last season in Sean Brew (5-foot-9, 230 pounds), Anthony Baker (6-1, 275) and Joe Moore (6-4, 235).

Standout receiver Jameson Williams (6-2, 170) returns after he caught 36 passes for 1,062 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. He was the Lions' most dangerous weapon last season.

This year he's not alone.

Senior receiver Cameron Coleman (5-11, 180) transferred back to the area after spending a year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He was a dynamic presence at Vianney during its Class 5 championship run in 2016 and is among the highest-rated Division I recruits in the state.

New at quarterback is junior Mekhi Hagens (6-2, 180), who transferred to Ritter after starting the past two seasons at Hazelwood East. Hagens threw for 1,875 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a sophomore.

“We have one of the top receiver tandems in the state,” Gregory said. “I'm sure Mekhi loves it as well. You've got two toys to throw it to.”

Jones will see some time at receiver and Gregory sees big things out of sophomore Keavian Long (5-7, 150) and freshman receiver Luther Burton, too.

“It's going to make other people better because they're going to have to step up if teams try to take (Coleman and Williams) away,” Gregory said.

The defense could be even better than the loaded offense. Ritter returns nine starters from last season and adds a pair of new, talented seniors. Caleb Roberson (5-11, 175) will step into a starting role in the defensive back field. He comes to Ritter from Upland High School in southern California. He has several Division I offers including Iowa State, New Mexico, BYU, Wyoming.

Roberson wasn't completely new when he arrived this summer. He and Williams crossed paths on the AAU track circuit on the regular. He won a state championship in the 300-meter hurdles in 36.61 seconds as a junior.

He said it's been a great experience joining a talented group that gets after each other every day.

“When you got top-notch level guys sometimes you're going to get into it. Everyone is competing to be the best they can be,” Roberson said. “We're out here every day. We're lifting together, running together, working together. The bond is coming naturally every day we practice together.”

Senior linebacker Jaylon Hudson (5-11, 175) missed his junior season due to a head injury but was cleared to play this fall. He has stepped right in and made an impact.

Jones (5-10, 170) is a Western Michigan recruit who returns to help orchestrate the defense.

Ritter has enough depth it doesn't expect to play anyone significant minutes on both sides of the ball. That depth is why the Lions feel this is their year to break through.

“I can't wait. We're trying to win state,” Jones said. “We were putting it together. We were building but it's here now. We have too many guys not to make state.”

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