MORRIS – Ever since the final horn sounded on Morris’ 49-14 loss to Kaneland to end last year’s football season, the Redskins had been waiting for Aug. 11, the first official day of practice.
Even though the various groups on the team have been to different camps and 7-on-7s throughout the summer, that was the IHSA’s official start date.
“We had a camp at the end of July,” Morris coach Alan Thorson said. “So [the first practice] was basically an extension of that. We are still doing a lot of conditioning and a lot of one-on-one drills since we are just in helmets for a couple of days. It’s more of a review when we run plays, but it’s good to get everyone together as a team and on the same page as far as what we want to accomplish.”
The Redskins’ main goal in 2014 is getting that memory of last year’s 3-6 final mark out of their minds. It was the first time since 1976 that Morris had won fewer than four games and just the second time since then – 2000 being the other – that the Redskins lost more games than they won.
“That [the 3-6 record] hasn’t set well with anyone,” Thorson said. “Not the coaches, not the fans and definitely not with the kids. They had a chip on their shoulders this year, that’s for sure. They have since last November when we started lifting weights.
“They want to move on from last year, for sure, but they also feel like they have something to prove. These seniors this year have put a lot of work in, and with this junior class coming in, there’s a different mix. We really like what we’ve seen.”
One of the main reasons for optimism is returning running back Jake Walker, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season in just nine games. Walker is a year older and stronger, as is much of the offensive line in front of him.
“I want to get out there and show what we can do,” Walker said. “We weren’t happy with finishing 3-6 last year and we definitely have a chip on our shoulder about that. The attitude is very different. We didn’t have a bad attitude or anything like that last year, it’s just that it’s different this year. Like we have something to prove.”
The offensive line will consist of returning starters T.J. Layne (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), Andrew Faught (6-2, 280), Eric Haish (6-2, 280), Jackson Shannon (6-3, 250) and Zach Hansen (6-1, 230). Other players expected to see time up front are Ryan Niewinski (6-0, 250), Mark Lincoln (5-11, 215) and Shawn Mobley (5-9, 250).
“I like the way our line has worked this summer,” Thorson said. “They have put in a lot of time in the weight room and they looked very good at the Bolingbrook Linemen Challenge. A lot of what we will be able to do offensively will depend on how they play, and they have come a long way since last season.
“The line should be one of our strengths this year.”
Besides Walker in the backfield, the Redskins will welcome back quarterback Griffin Sobol, as well as fullback/linebacker Robbie Meucci. Matt Feiden will also return to help the offense in short yardage situations. Top receivers for Sobol look to be juniors Joey (5-9, 185) and Jacob (5-9, 165) Webb, along with junior Tommy Balentine (5-7, 160) and senior tight end Brady Nicholson (6-3, 225).
“Griffin has really improved over the summer,” Thorson said. “He is a lot more comfortable running the offense and knowing where the receivers are going to be. Plus, with the line giving him better protection, he will be more confident taking the time to make his reads. But, if things break down, he is still able to run and get us some yards if he needs to.
“The Webb brothers and Tommy Balentine have looked real good. Brady Nicholson has all the tools you want out of a tight end. He’s big, he moves well. He just needs to put it all together, and I think he can do that and be a force.”
Defensively, Morris hopes to take advantage of the fact the offense will have the ball more often and not make the Redskins be on the field so much. Meucci and Feiden anchor the linebacking corps, while the defensive line will have many of the same players as the offensive line rotating in and out. Walker will be the mainstay of the secondary.
Morris allowed 30.2 points a game last year, a figure Thorson would obviously like to see shrink in 2014.
“Our defense was on the field a lot last year,” Thorson said. “We hope to be able to control the ball and run some more time off the clock this year to help them out. But we have some good players coming back and they have gotten better over the summer, too. Between controlling the ball better on offense and having more experience on defense, we should be a better defensive team this year.”
“We put ‘3-6’ up on a banner in the weight room in November,” Meucci said. “We didn’t like how it felt to have that record last year, and we didn’t want to forget it. We want to come back this year and show people that’s not who we are.
“We feel like we have something to prove and we can’t wait to get going.”