A new coach and new philosophies have brought a renewed sense of optimism at Andrew for the upcoming football season.
That much was apparent during the July 11 Battle of the Border 7-on-7 Passing Competition at Homewood-Flossmoor.
Dave Connell is the new man in charge, and if the name sounds familiar to Thunderbolts fans, it should. Connell bleeds black and gold, having graduated from Andrew in 1990.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” said Connell, a linemen during his playing days. “There’s a buzz in the community. I’m excited. The coaches and the kids are working hard. I have high expectations.”
If those expectations, which include qualifying for the postseason, are to be realized, Andrew’s defense is going to have to lead the way, at least in the early going while an inexperienced offense gains its footing.
“The defense is going to have to carry us,” Connell said. “The front seven has some experience. We return four or five guys back on defense.”
A defense, however, that allowed a whopping 314 points during a disappointing 5-5 season in 2013. On five occasions, the Thunderbolts allowed more than 40 points in a game. A new scheme — the T-bolts will run a 4-3 in place of a 4-4 — and new coordinator — Steve Dulkowski — should result in an upgrade in ’14.
“There’s a different system and higher expectations,” said Andrew linebacker Mo Aqel, a junior. “I think we can be much stronger defensively. We have to keep working hard to prove the doubters wrong.”
Andrew returns just two starters on offense. Connell has yet to decide on a quarterback between junior Bobby Kman and sophomore Ryan Summers. Each produced quality moments at Homewood-Flossmoor’s passing competition.
“It’s real close,” Connell said of the quarterback battle. “Bobby has more experience. He’s a little more polished when it comes to making the read, releasing the ball and avoiding the rush. We still have time before we name a starter.”
The Thunderbolts will heavily rely on running backs Alex Cusimino, a senior, and Ben Devries, a junior, to move the chains behind an inexperienced line. Since Andrew will employ an inexperienced signal-caller and O-line, it’s imperative it can effectively run the ball to avoid third-and-long situations.
“We’re young on both sides of the ball, but we’re really young on offense,” Connell said. “Alex has shown great leadership. He’s a workhorse. We need the rest of the kids to follow his lead.”
Despite their inexperience, Cusimino is confident the Thunderbolts will surprise some teams this season.
“I’m confident we’re going to be good,” he said. “We have some up-and-coming juniors. But we’re going to have to go 100 percent every single second. I think we’re capable of going to the playoffs and making a run.”