Story by James Snow
Photos by Larry Bennet
When it comes to summing up a prognosis for 2013 Rocky River football, the phrase “youth is served” is an obvious one that comes to mind. If head coach Rick Adams and his staff have their way, amend that phrase to “youth and athleticism are served.”
Adams, who returns to the helm of the Pirate program for a sixth season, sees commitment and quickness in the weight room and on the field this August. He and his staff are hoping what is a 40-man squad with only eight seniors can develop some depth and stay healthy and turn that commitment and quickness into victories in September and October.
“We had 26 seniors lead us a year ago,” said Adams, who has compiled a 29-22 (.569) record in his five seasons at Rocky River. “This year’s team is smaller in numbers and somewhat smaller in size, but I believe we have an opportunity to field an explosively athletic squad on both sides of the ball."
The 2012 Pirates started the season 1-3, but then rallied with a four-game win streak, outscoring a quartet of West Shore Conference foes, 92-36, in the meat of the campaign. The veteran-laden Rocky River team finished the season with a 6-4 mark, flipping the script of a 3-7 season the previous year (2011).
That three-win season in 2011 may well have been an important turning point for Adams and the Pirate football program.
“Two years ago after the 3-7 season, we challenged our kids and told them we were going to demand more of them. We told them they were going to have to start demanding more of each other if we wanted to match up with teams like Avon and Midview.”
Adams pointed at maroon-and-white-clad players on the turf playing field at Rocky River Stadium, going through the rigors of mid-camp drills on an August morning: “Those 40 guys have stood up to that challenge. They’ve worked hard and bought in. We’re coming off a great off-season filled with individual success stories.”
Those success stories include right guard Cam Kysela (junior, 5-10, 265) and center Bill Pelger (senior, 6-0, 230), who return as multi-year starters that will anchor an otherwise smaller and untested group on the offensive line. Kysela and Pelger are two of five offensive starters who return for 2013. Those returnees will be part of an offense in transition.
The 2012 Pirates averaged 19.3 points per game, with Adams and his staff often utilizing experience and size in two-tight end, I-formation sets and play calls designed to move the chains with power running. But the progress made by now-junior quarterback Matt Lowry (5-7, 160) and the influx of smaller, quicker, more athletic skill players should yield more of a spread attack.
Adams said Rocky River will look to attack weaknesses from sideline-to-sideline and down field with a mix of off-tackle zone runs and a versatile passing attack.
According to Adams, sophomore Eric Jones (5-10, 165) is an impact player on both sides of the ball. He’ll be utilized as a slot receiver in a talented receiving corps that includes returning starters Pat Connors (junior, 5-10, 155) and Alex Theiling (senior, 6-5, 205) and newcomers Cam Heider (junior, 5-8, 145) and Evan Nugent (sophomore, 5-11, 165).
“Our receivers are the most dangerous part of our offense,” indicated Adams, who plans to run a hybrid of spread and diamond sets this season.
Directing that offense will be Lowery, who started a handful of games as a sophomore. Adams appears to have confidence in the heady Lowery and the receivers in the key area of exploiting defensive sets with audibles at the line. Junior tailback Travis Smith (5-8, 160) figures to spearhead the Pirate rushing attack, and Adams sees Smith as a player who has amped up his commitment and workouts in the off-season.
“Hopefully we’ll be the type of offense that can score on quick hitters but also sustain drives with some variety in our approach. Being healthy and productive up front will be a big key for us. Our skill players need space in which to do their thing.”
The Rocky River defense will be loaded with new faces, returning just one starter from a year ago. Gone are leading tackler Michael Dickey and a host of interior linemen and veteran defenders. New on the scene are two-way talents like Jones, Kysella, Pelger and Smith, who’ll be counted on for big stops while getting big minutes.
Adams hinted that with all of the new bodies, the defense has been slower in coming around to form than the offense this August: “Again on defense, we do have some athleticism and speed. But guys need to leverage that speed with an in-game aggressiveness in flying to the ball.”
The fleet-footed and game-aware Jones will be slotted as a rover, allowing him to lead that charge. Junior outside linebacker Nick Rodgers (5-10, 180) is a player that Adams sees as a talent in an otherwise rotating group of linebackers.
As with the offense, Adams and Defensive Coordinator Tom Fowler will look to best utilize the most effective defenders, and the team’s base 4-4 defense could morph into a 3-4 as the season progresses.
Rocky River’s season kicks off with an Aug. 30 home tilt against Fairview, a team that Adams sees as much improved. The Pirates are slated to open WSC play with a key Sept. 20 home game against Midview, a program that has gone 11-2 in league play over the last two years.
Key road games - at Avon (20-0 in conference games over the last three years) on Oct. 18 and at Elyria Catholic on Nov. 1 - highlight the second half of the season for the Pirates, who were an impressive 4-1 on the road last fall. Adams credits that road success to Fowler and Assistant Offensive Coordinator Bill McCleave.
“Those guys do an outstanding job with film study and preparing the players mentally. They are great schemers who make the right adjustments,” he said.
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