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Knights face new situation

Published Sep. 29, 2005

(ran PW PS editions)

Time is up.

For area high school football players who decided to take it easy this summer or skip a few important workouts, there is no longer any place to run and hide.

Well, perhaps area coaches will find a place for them to run.

"But you can't hide from it," River Ridge coach Scott Schmitz said. "Not anymore.

"If you put up a certain amount of weight at the end of the school year and you can't lift that amount now "

Football practice begins Monday, and those not ready to play will be separated from those who spent the summer preparing.

There will be plenty of running and jumping and lifting for the players as they try to hone their skills for the season-openers Sept. 4.

For the coaches, it is a time to evaluate and put puzzles together. A running back here, a defensive back there. Everyone has a few holes to fill.

But does everyone have those pieces?

River Ridge begins its first camp ever without a starting quarterback. Last year, J.D. Imperatore emerged after an impressive spring and went on to lead the county in passing. This year, Schmitz said neither senior Jon Breen nor sophomore Tim Dare distinguished themselves, leaving the most important position vacant for now.

"I'm not sure who it's going to be, but we hope that somebody steps up in the first week and claims that spot," Schmitz said. "Right now, I don't know who's ahead. I might say right now Tim a little bit.

"I would say this is the first fall that we have had since the school opened that we didn't know who the quarterback will be."

Though Schmitz isn't panicked, he's concerned, primarily because senior Jason Bingham returns at wide receiver and is probably the best in the area after leading the county in receiving last season. Not to be able to take advantage of his skills would sting.

Another pressing concern? Linebacker. Last season, Schmitz spent the spring and fall praising a great group of sophomores. But two of his better ones, starters Luke Conner and Mike Houchins, won't return, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the defense.

At Ridgewood, coach Wayne Parzik is either dressing up a bad team or burying the legacy of one. The Rams will take the field with new uniforms and finally have polished off the finishing touches on their weight room and locker room.

Plus, Parzik kind of considers this his first true season because he was hired after spring practice in 1998 and hustled to put a team on the field by the opener.

This time around, Parzik has been able to install a workout regime, prepare his team during spring drills and finish the make over. The result has so far been positive: He expects about 45 kids Monday after finishing last year with 23.

"The facilities, the players, the coaching staff _ there's not one single thing that hasn't been changed," Parzik said. "We've added and improved in every possible direction.

"Everything I see is positive. We won't allow anything negative. We've had 35-45 kids a day coming in to lift weights, and they're all upbeat. You want to talk about a turn around."

Now Parzik wants to find out if throwing a tuxedo on a program in the midst of a 30-game losing streak makes it, well, more attractive. Because no matter how many bells and whistles there are when the Rams open the season, The Streak will be there, too.

But for how long?

Ridgewood has a lot of holes to fill and again will be undersized. But quarterback Tony Goluba is expected to give the Rams more of a passing threat, and running back Mike Cassagnol showed great potential in gaining 570 yards in limited action last year.

Expect the early focus in camp to be on defense, as Parzik seems very pleased with the offensive prospects this year.

At Gulf and Hudson, coaches will keep their fingers crossed that enough players show up. In what has become an annual problem for the schools, the numbers during spring drills were down, and a reversal is paramount to success.

Gulf coach Keith Newton and Hudson's first-year coach, Terry Voyles, will be looking for quarterbacks, but both have the one thing the county seems to have plenty of this year _ good running backs. Brad Felten at Hudson and Jesse Bailey at Gulf have 1,000-yard potential.

As long as the coaches can find enough players to block for them.