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Rams count on tackles

Senior-to-be bookends Keith Conley and Vincent Reynoso probably will not touch the football next season, but both tackles are expected to have a hand in Ridgewood's revival.

Reynoso was penciled in as a starter on the right side and Conley, a three-year nose guard, has staked claim to the left spot.

"These two guys are the key," coach Wayne Parzik said of the blockers whose success will go a long way in improving on a 2-8 season. "They're kind of the steering behind the whole machine here."

Reynoso steps into a full-time starting role after four starts last season. Conley, who also started four games on offense before being limited to defensive duties, envisions a smooth transition.

Playing defense, Conley said, provided an insight on how to get the upper hand against an onrushing linemen.

"You know how the offensive line works and what they have to do to contain you and keep you from making tackles," Conley said.

One thing Conley will avoid, he said, is tipping off the defense with a sleight of hand.

"If (an offensive lineman's) knuckles are not on the ground, they may be pulling, but if he has a lot of pressure on his hand, he's looking to drive you. I used to have one eye on the ball and out of the corner look at his hands."

At 5-foot-7 and 200 pounds, Conley is hardly an intimidating sight breaking out of the huddle. But being small, he said, gives him leverage against larger foes.

"I can get under a guy's pads and play the gap and stay low," Conley said. "If you're not low, they're just going to push you back like you're on roller skates."

But staying low is only part of it, said Conley, who feels he has improved on his techniques.

"I'm coming off the ball a lot quicker and staying with my block instead of hitting the guy and leaving him alone," Conley said.

Reynoso, 5-10 and 200, is not much bigger than Conley. Like Conley, Reynoso feels he will perform better this season. That optimism stems from Reynoso's increased amount of time in the weight room and a greater intensity at practice.

"Having a positive outlook, you work harder as a team. There's more unity," Reynoso said.

There is another incentive for Reynoso and his teammates. Namely, avoiding another 35-game losing streak that came to halt with last season's win over first-year Wesley Chapel.

The Rams' other win came during the off-season, when the Florida High School Activities Association reversed the loss against Zephyrhills because that team used an ineligible player.

"I think everybody's tired of losing," Reynoso said.

Conley knows all too well about attitude adjustments. As a freshman nose guard, he was called up to the varsity after just three games as a junior varsity player. It didn't take long for him to get knocked down a few pegs by the varsity players.

"When I moved up, I had a big head. I was going to be all-world," Conley recollected. "After that first practice, I got off my high horse. They just beat me and beat me and beat me. They beat me to a pulp.

"They basically taught me a lesson on being cocky and that I needed to work on a few things."

Now it's time for Conley and Reynoso to teach the Ram linemen a few things. The other projected startes are center Chase Decubellis and guards Bobby Shields and Nari Haihan, none of whom played extensively last year.

Parzik wants the tackles' enthusiasm to be contagious.

"They say, "Run my way, run my way,' " Parzik said.

Parzik expected Conley to emerge as a leader during spring practice, but said he is somewhat surprised at Reynoso's newfound enthusiasm and devotion.

"Reynoso's really stepped up," Parzik said. "This year, for some reason, he's caught on fire.

"He's bleeding from his head and his nose (during a recent practice) and he jumps up enjoying it. He likes it."