Rochester football preview: Zebras return RB trio, but Shaffer seeks better defense
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The Rochester football team will open the 2023 season with a game at Wabash at 7 p.m. Friday. The Zebras went 10-2 last year and advanced to the sectional final for the first time since 2000.
Rochester football coach Ron Shaffer got the school logo tattooed on his left calf in June.
To tell it apart from his right calf, he quipped, when asked why.
But if his tattoo is local, his travels since the end of last season were national. He went to coaching clinics in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Indianapolis.
The coaching clinic in Pittsburgh focused on the wing-T offense that Shaffer installed on becoming coach in 2021. The clinic in Indianapolis was the statewide coaches clinic. In February, they attended the Glazier Football Clinics in Las Vegas. There, they met Chris King, the defensive coordinator at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California.
They later made a separate trip to St. John Bosco, a powerhouse program in the Los Angeles area ranked No. 3 nationally, to gain more insights from King and his staff that can help their own defense here.
Shaffer said the camps help develop camaraderie within the coaching staff, reflect on the previous season and “develop dreams and aspirations” for the season ahead.
“We got to spend four days with them and watch practice,” Shaffer said. “They have some of the best players in the country, and they play some of the best players in the country. Their schemes are really matching what we do defensively, so we were able to sit down and powwow with them for four days, which was tremendous.”
Shaffer said they also took around 33 players to the Manchester University team camp in June.
“For us, we get a chance to develop depth,” Shaffer said. “And we want to see what that depth is, and we get a chance to scrimmage a little bit. What we used to find out in Week 2 or Week 1 of a season, we get to find out earlier in the summer with the scrimmages that we have now. We can find out, Does a guy need to really buckle down and work really hard to even come close to backing somebody up? Is he a solid starter? Is he a guy that we’ve got to really look at trying to get on the field? So it’s not necessarily a proving ground for everybody, but there is an opportunity for guys to move up and down the depth chart.”
The depth chart at fullback and wingback figures to change little. Senior Alex Deming returns at fullback after rushing for 3,208 yards and 49 touchdowns the last two seasons. Wingbacks Colton Ferverda and Brant Beck, who combined for 1,684 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, are also back.
But Rochester must replace quarterback Aaron Swango, center Austin Rogers, right tackle Hunter Shriver and tight end Alex Griggs, all of whom graduated from an offense that averaged 40 points per game.
Sophomore Carson Paulik, who saw varsity playing time last year at tight end, has earned the starting nod at quarterback. Clarence Garrett will be the back-up.
Shaffer said that Paulik’s skill set will allow more freedom in his offensive play calling.
“I think it is game time,” Shaffer said of Paulik’s adjustment to his new position. “It’s just seeing that there is a different speed, that there’s more of a sense of urgency and a different level of play that it takes to be successful in high school. He’s approached this offseason … in I would call it a yeoman’s or a workman’s attitude of just getting in the weight room and getting extra work. He went to SOS (Scheib O’Hara Scheib) football development camp as a quarterback. He’s done several things beyond working with one of the assistant coaches with the Indianapolis Colts with his throwing.
“Is it going to translate into 250 yards passing a game? Probably not. But it’s gotten him more game ready than we could have gotten him here at home.”
Shaffer has listed sophomore Callen Ferverda, Colton’s younger brother, as the starting center for Friday’s season opener against Wabash. Junior Wes Lawson, who has been battling strep throat in recent days according to Shaffer, is expected to start at right tackle.
Returnees to the offensive line include junior left tackle Xavier Vance, senior left guard Brady Beck and senior right guard Peyton Young.
Defensively, Deming will move from end to inside linebacker, where he played in 2021. Young will man one end spot while Colin Weiand will replace the graduated Ethan Brock at the other end spot. Tackles include Brady Beck and Vance.
Meadows will start at the other inside linebacker next to Deming. Colton Ferverda will start at outside linebacker, and senior Gavin Young will see time at hybrid linebacker-safety position.
Starters at cornerback include senior Dylan Hook and sophomore Zakk Parks, who grew up in Rochester, played at Peru last year and returned home this year. Brant Beck starts his second year at free safety.
Shaffer hopes that not only can the coaching clinics help springboard the defense to another level but also their performance in a 24-8 loss to Lafayette Central Catholic in last year’s Class 2A, Sectional 34 final.
“I would say we could play a little bit better,” Shaffer said. “We want to be aggressive. There were some things we were still learning as we went along, but I would say through the tournament, we played pretty good defense. We played a pretty good defense against LCC. But even though the score may not show it, one of our better defensive efforts against a pretty good offensive team. I think that game shows what we’re looking for to catapult into this fall.”
Though Tippecanoe Valley left the Three Rivers Conference, Rochester retained them on the schedule, and they will meet in Week 2 on Aug. 25. Lewis Cass, who replaced Valley in the conference, will be the Zebras’ Week 5 opponent on Sept. 15. Knox was dropped to make room.
Aug. 18 – at Wabash, 7 p.m.
Aug. 25 – vs. Tippecanoe Valley, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 – at Whitko, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 – vs. Manchester, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 – vs. Lewis Cass, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 – at Peru, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 – vs. Northfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 – at Southwood, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 – vs. Maconaquah, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 – Class 2A, Sectional 34 quarterfinal
(NOTE: One team in Sectional 34 will receive a bye and will not play on Oct. 20.)
Class 2A, Sectional 34
Lafayette Central Catholic