CINCINNATI — The Taft High School football team represents home for senior linebacker Ronald Cutts.
"It's always a brotherhood," Cutts said Wednesday afternoon. "It's love down here."
That brotherhood at the school, across the street at Stargel Stadium and in the community has been strengthened since Tyler Williams was named the Senators head coach in February 2021.
Taft (9-3) was a Division V regional semifinalist last season and the Senators are hungry to earn an opportunity in Canton in December.
"We got a chip on our shoulder; a big chip on our shoulder because we felt like we should've won state," Cutts said. "That's our end goal. But we are going to take one game at a time to get to that state goal."
Taft, which opens the season at Roger Bacon Aug. 18, has moved up to Division IV this season, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association divisional breakdown.
There is a lot of anticipation for the Senators, who have several players with scholarship offers including 2024 defensive end Elias Rudolph, who is rated Ohio's No. 6 player overall in his class by 247 Sports.
"Last year was more of a learning curve for us," said Williams, the former Colerain star who was named the Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference Red Division Coach of the Year. "Now our guys are running a similar offense, similar defense - guys are picking it up fast and playing fast. They're definitely pushing each other this offseason."
The bond among the players and coaches has been strengthened this preseason as opposed to the summer of 2021 when players weren't on the same page when they were fatigued.
Taft athletic director Romell Salone said the team has made an effort to hold each player accountable this offseason.
Williams and the assistant coaches have noticed less preseason dissension from a year ago and more openness to coaching.
"With taking over this program these kids really needed to see that somebody really cared and not just football wise," Williams said. "It's bigger than football. After practice I will stay an hour or two after with my kids just to talk to them about what's going on in their life. I will check with their parents to see how things are going at their home."
Taft's competitiveness was on display during a workout Wednesday afternoon at Stargel Stadium. Salone said there is a great deal of energy and confidence about the players.
The college recruiting spotlight continues to grow.
Yet, the Senators have also kept the recognition in perspective.
"Without putting in the work, talent is nothing," Cutts said. "You always have to better your craft."
Williams said the players understand that the scholarship offers are a bonus for the work they've put in during the year.
The Taft football program goes beyond wins and losses. It's about the student-athletes becoming better young men, Williams said. The team emphasizes that throughout the summer.
During the July 4 weekend, the Taft players and coaches had a barbecue with water balloons to create a fun atmosphere as a team.
Coaches have created group chats to check in with the players about meals, clothes, transportation or if they simply want to have a conversation about life.
Cutts said he and his teammates know how much the coaches care about the program and the school. It's part of the reason why Taft is poised for another very successful season in the hopes of repeating the boys basketball team's state championship journey.
"It's always been a brotherhood," Cutts said. "I've been playing with these guys since I was four, five, six years old. It's always good to play with the same people. This is where I grew up. I played for the Little Senators football team when I was younger so it's always been a part of me."