Bulldogs not hangdog after 2014 ending
Richards football players could have hung their heads while recalling the team's shortcoming against Batavia in last fall’s Class 6A championship game.
And remembering that nine starters from the 2013 state runner-up club have moved on would further the reason to feel crestfallen.
But instead of dwelling on various kinds of losses, the returning Bulldogs are looking ahead to the 2014 season with confidence. They plan on applying the lessons learned a year ago and becoming stronger because of it, robust enough perhaps to be the last team standing this time around.
“Last year, we learned that hard work pays off,” said senior-to-be quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers, who is back for his third varsity season “We did everything that we could. All season we busted our butts [and] Coach [Tony Sheehan] pushed us to the limit.
“And we saw that it didn’t go unnoticed. It showed in our performance on the field. Now we know how hard we have to work to get back there [to state].”
While acknowledging last season’s great run, Sheehan admitted he was also pleased by what he saw from his returnees during the first two weeks of summer practice and Saturday’s 7-on-7 tournament hosted by Richards.
“We had a great group of seniors [a year ago] and they took a lot of the leadership,” Sheehan said. “We’re going to miss them, but you have to replace and reload, and that’s what we do around here. That’s what we’re expecting.
“We have a good group of young guys coming up that look good so far. Our seniors, we’re expecting them to keep the tradition going, and they’ve really taken a leadership role. It’s been a good summer so far.”
The Bulldogs’ biggest departures on the defensive side of the ball are lineman Savon Robinson and linebackers Romel Hill and Andrew Venerable, a trio of three-year regulars. Ramonta Hill is the most notable returnee, but he thinks the defense will be up to Richards’ typical standards when the regular season begins at the end of August.
“On defense, we’re just smash-mouth football,” Hill said. “We lost a couple good linebackers, but other than that we’re going to be pretty good.”
Last year’s defense pitched six shutouts and held opponents to six or fewer points on two other occasions. Hill expects to see more of the same and didn’t hesitate to say so.
“Shutouts,” he said, referring to the prevention crew’s main objective each time out. “Definitely shutouts.”
Offensively, the dual-threat Muhammad-Rogers will have an almost entirely new line blocking for him, but he has big expectations for the group.
“We have some young guys that are stepping up that are pretty good, so I don’t think we’ll be any weaker than last year,” he said. “We have some young guys that work hard. They know what it takes — they watched the line from last year and they’re doing more than them. I think we’re going to be pretty strong up front.”
As far as skill-position guys, Richards is in good shape experience-wise, starting with its quarterback. Muhammad-Rogers said the familiarity those players already have with one another will be instrumental in keeping the offense flowing this season.
“It’s like we never missed a beat,” he said. “We come out and just keep doing what we do best: making plays. We’re always in rhythm, we have our timing down with our routes, [and] we can only get better. And then we added more weapons on the outside, so it’s going to be pretty hard for [opposing] defenses.
“We’re expecting to put up a lot of points, especially when we go up-tempo. We want to put together long drives [to] keep our defense off the field and keep their defense on. We want to wear teams out and we expect to be back in the state championship [game].”
Life goes on without Weishar
Trying to replace a player like receiver Nic Weishar is not an easy task.
And it’s made more difficult for Marist in 2014 by the absence of many other members of last season’s starting offensive unit — 10 players in all. One who was expected to return, Duke University-bound all-area wideout Flynn Nagel, has transferred to Lemont.
There’s no question, though, the largest hole to fill is the one left by the graduation of 2013 Player of the Year Weishar, who is now at Notre Dame.
“With Nick, he’s a guy that basically when you talk about replacing him, I don’t know if you can,” RedHawks coach Pat Dunne said at Saturday’s 7-on-7 tournament at Richards. “But I can tell you one thing: He left a lot of great things through his example and what he did for our guys. … His work ethic and obviously what he did on the field, it’s something that these young guys being around him saw.
“Nick was just all around a phenomenal player, a great player, obviously very diverse for the offense. He was a guy that brought so much to the table, but his leadership and what he left the younger guys is a great thing, too, because he left a major impact on this program.”
The lone returning starter on offense is tailback Jawill Aldridge, who Dunne said “brings a new dimension” to the running game. With positions to fill across the board and every job wide open over the summer, Dunne said he likes the level of competition he’s seen from his offensive players.
“From their competing end and learning the basic concepts of what we’re trying to do, I’m very excited,” Dunne said. “It’s a great group of guys and I’m excited about how hard they’re working.”
Dunne said that while he has taught basically the same concepts during his six years as head coach, every team is different, so those need to be tweaked to fit each season’s personnel. What that means for 2014 remains to be seen.
“Those questions will be answered throughout the summer,” Dunne said. “We feel like we have an idea, but a lot of times that idea can change as we go on farther and different guys step up.”
Rule change not fazing players, coaches
Football players and coaches tend to be creatures of habit, but they aren’t letting the IHSA’s new rule regarding summer practice faze them.
The by-law eliminates full pads and full contact —defined as drills or game simulations where live action occurs — during the 25 contact days of summer. Players are limited to 14 hours per week in helmet and shoulder pads and a maximum of 15 days in all.
We’re getting more out of practice,” Richards quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers said. “It’s not all about just banging heads no more. Now we have to learn, and I think that’s actually better for us.
“We would still like to have a lot of contact, but we’re taking what we got and we’re rolling with it. We’re just learning a lot in practice, with coach[es] throwing a lot at us, and it’s easier for us to get it down now because it’s more down time and more explaining. So it’s pretty good.”
Even with the rule change, neither Richards coach Tony Sheehan nor Marist boss Pat Dunne has noticed anything that is hindering players’ progress or the level of competition.
Sheehan’s Bulldogs have been practicing for two weeks and he said his athletes are still getting a lot of work done in helmets and pads.
“You’d like to be in full pads, but we understand the new rule,” Sheehan said. “We’re adjusting our practice plans to what we have to do and it’s been working out fine. We’re throwing a lot at them and they’re picking it up.”
Dunne’s RedHawks have done mostly 7-on-7s, but he said he doesn’t expect the new rules to largely impact Marist’s summer camp because his past teams “haven’t really gone with full pads in the summer.”
“As coaches, you have to plan around what the IHSA rules are,” Dunne said. “But it’s also something that as far as our program goes and everything, we’ll continue to follow that plan and within that model do everything that we can to still continue to teach the right fundamentals of the game.”