Shaffer encouraged by depth as defense allows only 1 TD
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
An air of mystery surrounded the Rochester football team’s scrimmage against visiting Winamac at Barnhart Field Friday.
With the exception of offensive tackle Hunter Shriver, the players wore jerseys without uniform numbers. Only numbers on the players’ helmets guided those watching.
“Forgot to do the laundry,” coach Ron Shaffer said afterwards when asked to explain.
Though it might have been difficult to decipher who did what, there might be plenty of recognition to go around if the season turns out successfully.
Early returns might be successful as Rochester scored six touchdowns while Winamac had one during the scrimmage.
“We had some guys we weren’t too sure about a week ago or a week-and-a-half ago,” Shaffer said after being asked if he was encouraged or discouraged by the team’s depth. “You know, they’re starting to know their jobs, know their assignments and play fast with it, and that’s what we need. And they played physical. We still have our work to do, but the depth is there like we want.”
Shaffer hopes to have more one-way players this year, especially along the offensive and defensive lines.
“We were a little more towards that, a lot of rotational with our nose men,” Shaffer said. “We’d like to single that down and have a guy that just plays that, but for right now, we kind of a double up a little bit on the d-line, but they’re not all o-linemen. O-line guys are pretty much playing o-line. There’s just one guy getting a little extra time. It allows Eli Swango to fly around inside and just own the defense and get calls and know what to do.
“It’s nice to have Hunter Shriver and Xavier Vance kinda as your bookends there. We’d really like to keep them on the o-line side.”
Winamac’s only touchdown came on a 10-yard fade pass from Cash Roth to Jayse Bentle during the red zone portion.
“We have up one fade, and that’s fine, but the big thing is you don’t want to give up touchdowns on the ground, especially against an I(-formation) team, so kids played their responsibilities, got a (pass) knocked down in the end zone, so yeah, did alright in the end zone,” Shaffer said.
Some of the players who appeared to get carries at wingback included Payton Luhnow, Colton Ferverda, Ethan Amezquita, Gavin McKee and Brant Beck. Their play is expected to counterbalance the production the team gets from junior fullback Alex Deming.
Rochester scored three times during their red zone series, including touchdown runs on consecutive plays from Amezquita and Luhnow.
“We expect everybody to know what they’re doing and execute when they’re in there,” Shaffer said. “So I don’t care who’s in; we want guys executing. We had some missed assignments tonight and had some busted plays, but the effort was there. We can correct the mental errors.”
Both senior Aaron Swango and freshman Carson Paulik saw time at quarterback. Shaffer said a goal will be to get the quarterback outside of the pocket a little bit more this year.
“We didn’t do a very good job of it tonight either, taking care of the edge to get our quarterbacks out there,” Shaffer said of those efforts during the scrimmage. “But yeah, it’s been an emphasis for us. We want to get them on the edge and be a threat. We had some guys open tonight, and we missed them. So it’s definitely a priority.”
Winamac graduated 20 seniors from a team whose only loss occurred to North Judson in the sectional semifinals in 2021. This year’s team has five seniors.
“I love our kids to death,” first-year coach Josh Burgess said. “We’ve got good kids that work hard, but we’ve got kids that are inexperienced at the varsity level. We’ve got a couple starters back and a couple kids that have played a little bit, but man, most of our kids haven’t set foot and taken a varsity snap. The scrimmage was big for us tonight.
“We saw some good things from our kids. We saw some things we need to work on. I saw once we got through the first several plays, our kids settled down and handled themselves pretty well.”
Roth, a sophomore, and freshman Justin Potthoff saw time at quarterback. Top ball carriers included senior Michael Loehmer, juniors Max Gearhart and Willis Dennis Jr., sophomores Brody Wall and Logan Glenn and freshman Ethan Burgess.
Bentle and 6-6 senior Zayne Bell were the top targets in the passing game.
Burgess and his entire coaching staff, which also includes his brother Brandon, consists of Winamac grads.