The start of a new season generally brings hope and optimism. Whether either bears fruit once the season concludes is another matter.
When Rich Central football coach Terrell Alexander recently talked with yours truly about the 2013 season, it was evident the expectations are high. In fact, Alexander was trying his best to not let his innermost feelings get the better of him.
It’s July. Nearly two months remain until Week 1, when the Olympians take on Joliet Central. But I could tell Alexander is expecting big things from his team in 2013.
So am I, which was one of the reasons for the phone call.
This is Alexander’s third year as head coach at Rich Central after a long stint as an assistant at Homewood-Flossmoor. The Olympians are coming off a disappointing 3-6 season in 2012, a year after going 5-4.
“We’re going to be very good,” Alexander said. “Our goals are a whole lot higher than just qualifying for the playoffs. But the proof is in the pudding.”
In other words, talk is cheap. Alexander realizes Rich Central must do more than talk the talk. It must walk the walk in 2013.
It’s time for action.
“I’m very, very optimistic,” Alexander said. “We’ve got guys who have bought into the program. We’ve had close to 100 percent participation in our offseason program. When you finish 3-6 like we did last season, you would think the numbers would fall off. But they haven’t.”
The Olympians have a varsity roster of approximately 60 players, which is encouraging. Depth is an important attribute.
Even more vital to the success formula is having quality players. A team’s roster must have a few difference-makers, players who can alter a game with one play.
Rich Central has them on both sides of the ball, and a couple of those players will log time on both sides of the ball.
During his first two years Alexander was a proponent of starting 22 different players — two-way players were prohibited. Those days are over. Studs, such as Jeremiah Mitchell and Malik Fountain, will play both ways.
“We’re going to a little more of playing kids both ways,” Alexander said. “Kids like Jeremiah and Malik have to be on the field as much as possible. They’re playmakers.”
Hey, if you’re an established program with a rich history and talent-filled roster, go right ahead and use 22 different starters.
But if you’re Rich Central, which hasn’t qualified for the state playoffs since 2005, it’s imperative your difference-makers stay on the field.
Mitchell and Fountain are difference-makers. Mitchell will see time at quarterback, halfback and linebacker. He’s an athlete that’s being recruited by Division-I AA schools.
Fountain, who already has committed to Central Michigan, is in the same mold and will see time in the backfield and linebacker.
Senior Michael Hoover and junior D.J. Taylor are pushing Mitchell for playing time at quarterback.
“Jeremiah is competitive; nobody is going to come in and just take the quarterback position from him,” Alexander said. “He can make plays. If Michael or D.J. end up at quarterback, Jeremiah will be getting the ball somewhere on the field.”
So will senior Ahmad McClellen, though likely at running back.
Defensively, Alexander has a pair of quality ends in seniors Isaiah Hardy and Iyenoma Ogbomah — both are 6-foot-4, 215 pounds — a hard-hitting safety in 6-3 Emmett Lynch and lineman Terrell Alexander, the coach’s son.
While the talent is evident, what gives Alexander more hope for a turnaround season is the character of his players, namely, a senior group that’s regarded as one of the school’s finest academically.
There’s a commitment level to excel on the field and in the classroom and not necessarily in that order.
There are multiple players who have scored 27 and 28 on the ACT exam. Many rank among the best performers in their class.
“It’s such a good group of seniors; we have about 10 captains,” Alexander said. “I couldn’t just name two or three. It wouldn’t be fair to the others who have demonstrated the same leadership qualities. This is a committed group.”
The good news for the Olympians is that both the sophomore and freshman teams were 7-2 last season. There is some depth in case of injury.
So it’s understandable why Alexander is optimistic.
The football program appears to be headed down a similar path of the baseball team, which has exceeded 20 wins the past three seasons.
“The kids are hungry,” Alexander said. “Our success might come as a surprise to a lot of people, but we know we’ve put the work in. Now we have to go out there and show people.”