BY PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
The Rams football team won't face many opponents more imposing than their week one trip to Rochester.
The Rockets enter this season as the three time defending state champions and start ranked No. 2 in the 4A Associated Press poll.
“You don't win three state champions in a row by luck or by chance or even by just having a couple of great athletes come through,” Mt. Vernon coach Jared Shaner said.
Shaner said despite the pedigree of the opponent, his team is excited to start the season.
“It's the beginning of football season. It's a new year. That's always exciting,” Shaner said. “Our kids have put in a tremendous amount of work. So of them throughout the entire offseason.”
Last season Rochester traveled to Mt. Vernon and won 55-24. Wisconsin-bound Garrett Dooley scored the first two times he touched the ball on runs of 50 and 72 yards.
The good news for Rams fans is Dooley along with a crop of skilled players have graduated.
Rochester enters the season with Robbie Kelly at quarterback. The 6-2 senior saw limited playing time behind Division I signee Austin Green a season ago, but he did experience big minutes in a blowout playoff win against Mahomet-Seymour.
The primary rushing option is expected to be Drake Berberet. The senior had 67 carries last season and finished with 488 yards. He also caught 12 passes for 163 yards.
Those will be the Rochester offensive players a relatively young Rams defense will have to contain.
“(We've) tried to give them the opportunity to watch (Rochester) on film, show them things during the week in practice and just hopefully prepare them for anything they may see Friday night,” Shaner said.
On the defensive line, Rochester has some size. The group is highlighted by the 6-7 Matt Swaine.
Mt. Vernon enters the season with a new quarterback, Dylan Reeves. He takes over for his brother Clayton, who was a two-year starter. Shaner said keeping the new signal caller in manageable situations is critical. But he added that Reeves is just one of 11 players within the offensive scheme.
“(He has to) go out and do his one 11th and make sure everything we work on in practice wether that be footwork or throwing the ball or carrying out a great fake, that he's doing his part, and hopefully everybody takes that mentally,” Shaner said.
The trip north for Shaner is a return of sorts. He coached Lincoln, which is a Rochester conference opponent, for five seasons.
The opening week of the season can be a tricky preparation time for coaches. There is no previous week's game film to dissect. They might know details about certain schemes, but specific personnel for their opponent can create more guesswork. Shaner said he watched the film from last season's matchup. He also saw Rochester compete during last season's playoffs.
“Ultimately in week one, it's really about how you prepare yourself,” Shaner said. “Obviously you can't go out there blindly.”
Friday's game kicks off at 7 p.m.