Rochester football preview: Zebras deep on the line, but skill players are young
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Senior night for the Rochester football team could possibly be a very long ceremony in 2023.
That’s because the Rochester football team has 17 freshmen listed on this year’s roster. Not all of them will play when the Zebras host Whitko in their season opener at 7 p.m. Friday.
But some of them will.
After in-class learning and athletics were delayed three weeks due to exposure to the coronavirus within the community, it’s time for some young Zebras to make their belated varsity debuts.
Alex Deming is a freshman who will start at both fullback and inside linebacker. Brady Beck is a freshman who will start at center.
Sophomores like left tackle Hunter Shriver, tailback Gavin McKee and tight end Alex Griggs will be getting their first varsity experience. Sophomores like Aaron Swango and Ethan Brock saw some varsity playing time last year but will have their roles likely expanded this year.
On defense, sophomores like defensive end Austin Rogers and defensive tackle Carlos Orduno will get their first taste of varsity playing time.
Some juniors will also be seeing much more of the varsity field, including offensive right tackle Jesse Shriver, split end-cornerback Jarret Regan, tight end Gunther Halterman, outside linebackers Kaleb Shaffer and Ethan Lawson and safety-backup quarterback Antonio Schlosser.
The most intriguing position group might be the offensive line. The Shriver brothers are bookend tackles. Noah Swango moves from center to left guard to make room for Beck. Marshall Fishback will start at right guard.
“It’s an area where we have a ton of potential, and it should be the strength of our team this year,” RHS coach Sean Kelly said. “Hopefully, I don’t eat my words there, but we have an abundance of kids that can play those positions, and we’ve got some experience at those positions as well along with some young talent.
“Hopefully, it will be a strength this year, and it will be a strength for years to come.”
Deming takes over for the graduated Bryce Abbott, a four-year starter at fullback. McKee takes over for the graduated Isaiah Jackson.
“It’s a complete lack of any experience, but obviously, we’ve been working hard with them,” Kelly said of his young running backs. “They’ve got ability, and they’re going to be running behind a line that’s got a little bit of experience also. So that helps. If we can open up some holes for them and get them into the flow and get them comfortable and running the ball hard, then that will go a long way. It helps to have some experience on the offensive line to bring those kids along.”
On defense, junior Braedon Pinder will start at tackle alongside Orduno. (Pinder also has experience as an offensive lineman and could be rotated there as well.) Fishback will start at defensive end opposite Rogers.
Swango joins Deming at inside linebacker.
Senior Andrew Bauch is another newcomer who could play both split end on offense and cornerback on defense on the side opposite Regan.
In addition to outside linebacker, Shaffer will also see time at fullback on offense. He will also be the kicker, punter and kickoff man.
Kelly counts 43 kids out for football. To be eligible to play against Whitko, all must have completed 10 practices. The 10th practice of the season was today.
That’s the small picture.
In the big picture, there seems to be an enthusiasm for football. Kelly said that around 120 kids played youth football in Rochester last year. Those are the Zebras of the future.
Those that take Barnhart Field Friday could be the first wave.
“So obviously, we’ve got a lot of good numbers in the sophomore and freshman classes, and hopefully, that’s a trend that will continue,” Kelly said. “Obviously, we don’t have a huge senior class or a huge junior class, but we have very good numbers in the sophomore and freshman classes.”