• Val T.

Rochester football preview: Zebras trying to get stronger, faster under new coach Shaffer

BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

First-year Rochester football coach Ron Shaffer believes in the camaraderie of football.

He wants his players to gather 10 years from now and tell stories. He wants them to commiserate over the losses and smile about the wins, even if those stories get humorously embellished.

“It’s been fun for me to learn more about these kids, to get involved and know what their interests are beyond football and know what they want to do beyond football,” Shaffer said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s about developing relationships. We’d love winning games, and we’d love having success, but at the end of the day, I want to see these guys 10 years after their graduation and give them hugs and want to know what their families are like and what they’re doing and share stories and lies about how good they were when they played.

“And that’s what it’s all about.”

He describes the mood in the locker room as both humble and confident. He said he recalls 20 players hanging out in the locker room 45 minutes after practice as a sign of a healthy locker room. They don’t want to leave; rather, they want to be around each other.

He’s asked many players to be flexible and play a position they had not previously tried.

Offense

He’s already turned the most experienced returning quarterback from last year’s team, senior Antonio Schlosser, into a wingback. Brady Beck, last year’s center, is a guard this year.

Shaffer has brought the wing-T offense to Rochester, and Aaron Swango and Dylan Hook are competing for the right to helm the offense at quarterback.

Rochester completed 25 passes last year. Swango caught seven of them, but he might be on the throwing end of those passes this time.

“It’s more about his ability to lead the offense than it is to maybe throw the ball,” Shaffer said of Swango. “He has great leadership ability. It may always not be verbal, but he’s a lead-by example guy for sure. He’s the type of guy when you get in the huddle, they want direction from him. They want to please him.

“Because he’s done enough in the weight room, he’s done enough leadership-wise that they want to do well for him. That’s probably got him the nod right now over Dylan. … He knows his job is to manage the offense.”

Shaffer said Hook has a better throwing motion and better arm than Swango, and he might also run faster. He said Swango has a “better grasp of the offense.”

“He’s still in the running,” Shaffer said of Hook.

In the wing-T, running backs are divided up as to whether they can play wingback or fullback. When asked who are the team’s running backs, he lists eight names. That includes Gavin McKee, who can play both wingback and fullback.

All running backs must be able to block.

“If they can’t block, they can’t play,” Shaffer said. “They know that, and every one of them have embraced that. They’ve learned to hit the sled, and they’ve probably haven’t ever hit a sled before as far as a halfback might go. But they’re learning that in order for them to touch the football, they better block first.”

Alex Deming, a sophomore, figures to get carries running the trap, iso and belly plays from the fullback spot.

“It’s a good sign,” Shaffer said. “We want a lot of depth there. We want to run in and play a lot of players at that position.”

On the offensive line, brothers Hunter and Jesse Shriver will man the tackle spots. Marshall Fishback will play right guard, and Brady Beck will move from center to left guard. Guards play a huge role in the misdirection-based wing-T, and Fishback and Beck could play a huge role.

“We’re looking for them to be able to pull and lead, pull and kick, to be able to get out on pass protection on boot passes,” Shaffer said of the guards. “And so (they’re) super important, and they also got to be able to get after it inside and block a man on them too. So it’s really pivotal

to have really good guys there at guard.”

Austin Rogers, whom Shaffer said is “tenacious” and has a “nice nasty streak” replaces Beck at center.

“I think it’s pretty good,” Shaffer answered when asked about the offensive line’s potential. “You know, they’re working hard, and everybody says that. But they’re putting in the work. We’re returning four out of five starters, and so we think there’s potential to have good success moving the ball based on what they can do.”

Defense

Hunter Shriver and Fishback will start at tackle. Jesse Shriver will be the backup at both tackle spots.

Rogers, Beck, Jarret Regan and Ethan Brock could see time at defensive end. Shaffer wants those players to have “tunnel vision” and see the small picture as to their responsibilities.

Alex Deming, Gavin McKee, Eli Swango and Colin Weiand are four players competing for two inside linebacker spots.

Alex Griggs, Payton Luhnow, Thatcher Sampsel will compete for time at outside linebacker.

“Sometimes our defensive ends back up a little bit into an outside backer position,” Shaffer said. “So some of those defensive end guys will have that experience as an outside backer look.”

Outside linebackers have to set the edge and allow inside linebackers to make plays while also dropping back into coverage.

“Our d-line guys thought they had to make the play on every down,” Shaffer said. “For us, they need to hold blocks. They need to hold gaps and maintain their responsibility versus playing an individual game. We’ve got to play 11 guys on defense.”

Aaron Swango, sophomores Ferverda, Basham, Hook and Kevin Blakesley and freshman Maddox Jewell, who had an interception in the scrimmage against Winamac last week, are competing for time at cornerback.

Schlosser will play safety with Hook and Luhnow also both capable of playing there. Mencias can play both cornerback and safety.

“He’s like the quarterback of your defense,” Shaffer said of safety’s role in the defense. “He’s making calls. He’s calling coverages, checking coverages and making sure everybody in that secondary is in the right spot and knows what they’re doing. So there’s a huge mental aspect to it. He’s our guy that has to make our outside backers right.”

Special teams

Parker Wallace, Mitchell Shafer, Gabe Scorsone and Brady Beck will compete for kicking duties. Alex Griggs and Colton Ferverda will compete for the punting job.

Coaching

Shaffer will be the offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and defensive line coach. Nate Basham, a 2011 Rochester grad who is in his third year on staff, will be the defensive coordinator, inside linebackers coach and split ends coach.

Bryce Roberts and Ken Hughes will assist Shaffer with the linemen. Deric Beck, a 2000 Rochester grad, is the running backs coach, outside linebackers coach and safeties coach.

Isaac Shaffer oversees quarterbacks on offense and cornerbacks on defense.

“We want that bond to be created,” Shaffer said. “The expectation is that they coach the best kid just as hard as they coach the kid that’s struggling to try to learn and get better at the game.

“Also, I want that kid to develop that relationship with a coach where they want ro run through a wall for them. So you get that opportunity when you’re invested and you spend more time with them. Plus, it’s the skill sets of our coaches. We’re trying to meet their skill sets and try to make it so that they feel comfortable with their coaching position, and all those guys have been doing a great job.”

Shaffer has described the experience as “great” since his hiring in April. He said there’s been little time to rest as he attaches players’ skill sets to positions at which they might excel.

But he sees a greater purpose in football as well.

“The game does so much more for us than we do for the game,” Shaffer said. “It teaches you so much about life, and that’s really our number one goal: to get these kids prepared to be successful beyond football.”


The Rochester football team will open its season with a Three Rivers Conference road game against Southwood at 7 p.m. Friday.


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