• Val T.

Shaffer shows off new-look Zebras at intrasquad practice

BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

The Ron Shaffer era of Rochester football had something of a full-pads public unveiling at an intrasquad scrimmage at Barnhart Field as part of Fall Sports Preview Night Friday.

Shaffer, who was hired as head coach on April 19, said he wants his players to “think less and play faster.” He knows that every coach wants his team to be that way.

“We’re trying to be patient and make sure the kids are learning the techniques, and we’re coaching the techniques we want them to learn,” Shaffer said.

The first revelation is that Antonio Schlosser, a senior who has the most experience at quarterback of any returning player, is no longer a quarterback. Rather, he’s going to see some time at wingback and at safety on defense.

Instead, Aaron Swango and Drew Hook are competing for time at quarterback.

It wasn’t the first time they had played in front of spectators. They also had a scrimmage against Fort Wayne Wayne, Culver and New Prairie eight days earlier.

The basis for the new offense was installed at a team camp at Manchester University over the summer. Shaffer is the first-year head coach, the offensive coordinator and the offensive and defensive lineman coach.

Shaffer said the coaching staff is “three-quarters” of the way through the install. Now they work on adding the “bells and whistles.”

“We had our football days through the summer that worked out real well for us,” Shaffer said. “Had good attendance there. First week here, you go backwards a little bit because you go back to just helmets and helmets and shoulder pads.

“Overall, we’re not satisfied with where we’re at, but we’re happy with the progress we’ve made.”

The “bells and whistles” include snaps out of the shotgun formation and run-pass option plays.

He said the defense is a little ahead of the offense at this point.

“The kids are picking up on it faster than the offense,” Shaffer said. “Because we are keeping it simple. We want our kids to know their reads. Simple things for linebackers (are) like open and closed windows to run through, and our defensive line … holding their gaps and closing opr not getting reached. That’s football lingo or whatever.

“But they’re learning, and they’re definitely progressing with it faster than I think we even thought they would on defense. So we’re really happy with how we’re progressing there.”

Shaffer said he wants it to be expected to be in the weight room. He calls that expectation a “cultural change for our players.”

“We’re not where we want to be with it, but it did improve this summer, and kids are getting stronger,” Shaffer said.

Many football players are enrolled in a weight training class during the school day. Football practice began statewide on Aug. 2, and school at RHS also began last week.

“And now with them having class every day, they’re having weightlifting in class in school,” Shaffer said. “That’s a big step for us.”

Rochester is coming off an 0-8 season in 2020. They are 1-14 in their last 15 games dating back to 2019.

With the exception of a one-point overtime loss to Maconaquah in the regular season finale, the other seven losses last year were by at least 21 points.

Shaffer was asked about the team’s confidence.

“I think it’s pretty high,” Shaffer said. “It’s only because we’re talking to the kids about measuring against ourselves right now. We’re competing against ourselves to get better every day.”

The Zebras travel to Winamac for a scrimmage at 7 p.m. Friday. They open the season with a road game against Southwood at 7 p.m. Aug. 20. Both Winamac and Southwood won their respective Class 1A sectionals last year.

Southwood has won 32 consecutive regular season games. Their last regular season loss came to North Miami in September 2017. They have outscored Rochester 66-0 the last two seasons.

“I can’t tell you how good Southwood is,” Shaffer said. “I don’t know how good. I know they’re probably pretty good. We only have a chance to measure that in a couple weeks.

“So right now, the kids’ confidence (levels) are high. We’re ready to move on to next week, practice, get ready to scrimmage Winamac and then the following week get ready for Southwood.”


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