With many football teams, on many levels (RYS, High School, College, Semi Pro, Professional) there are highs and lows. Some teams enjoy success more often than not, and others don't get to taste success very often. This is a reality all teams must deal with. To be successful season after season you have to maintain your core, and add additional talent to compliment what you already have set in place.
When you are the CHAMPIONS of a league, you expect to be back. The problem with expectations is that they're not guaranteed. The Racine Threat was the 2009 MSFL champs and hasn’t been back since. Since the championship season they've started four different quarterbacks and are now on their second head coach. These are not excuses, just reality. The continuity you need to be a champion has been absent. So this season, like the previous two, is about reaching that ultimate goal of being champions again!
Saturday evening the Racine Threat went head to head with the recently upgraded 2011 WSFL, Oostburg Rebels. The term “slug fest” is an understatement. Both team's defenses dominated their side of the ball. Unfortunately the Rebels made a few more plays offensively than the Threat, and they were victorious with a final score of 13-0. This is what new Head Coach Rudy Pardo wanted though. He wanted his team to be battle tested against the best. Pre-season games vs. weak opponents don't give you an honest look at what you need to correct. Oostburg was able to expose weaknesses on both sides of the ball that the Threat weren't able to see at practice. And with the right adjustments, this 13-0 loss may just give the Threat coaching staff the information they need to make sure this weekend's game has a completely different outcome.
The core offensive line from previous seasons is gone. The Threat has replaced 4 of their veteran offensive lineman with familiar faces in new positions. Gone are Reichel, Marks, Coombs and Loomis. Enter in Anzalone (former DE) Matsen (former TE) Pfund (former DT) and Konkol (former DT). While all are capable of being the future of the offensive line, they don't quite yet, posses the cohesion necessary to be elite. That is what practice and the pre-season are for. To assume the offensive line wouldn't miss a beat would be asinine. The previous offensive line had to play together for 7 years before they won a championship. While I don't think it will take another 7, I also don't expect the new faces to immediately go out and dominate the trenches. They need game time experience together to feel each other out.... and that's what they got Saturday. An honest look, at a championship caliber team from the WSFL.
The good part about having a new “regime” is their willingness to learn. This offensive line has attended every practice this season, and shown extreme growth. They've re-worked blocking schemes and corrected flaws in assignments from years past. In just a few short weeks they've gone from strangers, to one unit. Saturday was their first true test and over the course of four quarters they proved they could adapt and learn on the fly. They may not have been victorious on the scoreboard, but the game time experience they received Saturday will prove to be invaluable as the season goes on.
On the defensive side of the ball the Threat introduced a few new players as well. With the departure of Andy Morafcik, Will Caldwell and Nick Loomis, the new starting LB corps is Darius Nunn, Mike Zold and converted SS Kerry Peterson. This conversion was effortless, as the new LB corps dominated the run game of Oostburg. While they looked a little sluggish as the game wore on, the biggest issue that they'll face before the season starts is simply conditioning. There is no double in my mind this LB corps will cause problems week in and week out for opposing Rbs and TE's.
On the defensive line they returned James "Herby" Herbrechtsmeier, David Haywood, Mike Barnes and brought back run stopper Victor Jackson. They also added depth with GIANT Matt Layman as well as Jordan Coon. This unit performed extremely well Saturday as the coaches expected due to the fact that there was no turnover.
In the defensive backfield the Threat returned Jason Pardo at free safety and welcomed Colvin Clark at strong safety. Both safeties should compliment each other extremely well as they both posses the speed and open field tackling abilities to support the run and still cover the deep ball. At CB, 2009 playoff hero Jose Contreras was paired with Adaris Anderson to start the game while newcomers Champ Jones and Mike Cottonaro (SS) saw plenty of playing time as well. As a unit, they never missed a beat but also benefited from a few inaccurate passes from Oostburg QB Corey Roberson. This unit, as well as the LB corps are already in mid season form.
At running back we have remained the most consistent. We retained former league MVP Greg Sanders and bruiser veteran Bryan Jennings Jr. The combination of these two backs alone was quite the task for defensive coordinators to game plan for. When you add a shifty back like Ricardo Evertte and speedy Jason Jones into the mi, the Threat have the perfect combination of power, vision, ball security, toughness and speed that every offense is in need of. Will the coaching staff find enough balls to go around?
At WR Threat have completely shaken up their corps from years past, but you would have never known if you were present Saturday night. Mike Pottinger has returned as the #1 WR and opposite him is 3 yr veteran Phil Gayden. Behind those 2, fighting for every rep they can sink their cleats into, are Ryan Layman, Ryan Heusdens and Leroy Hargrove. With the addition of Anton Graham at TE the Threat have given themselves more weapons than opposing defenses may be able to handle in the passing game.
The most surprising off-season acquisition would have to be the addition of a name that sounds extremely familiar to a lot of Racine natives. He goes by Gordy. The fiery 19 yr old QB came to the team looking for a local home to continue to play football, and I think he's found it. While his first drop back resulted in a sack, he showed the poise necessary to be a quality pocket passer.
He completed multiple passes to different targets and converted on a 4th and 1 on his own side of the field to keep a drive alive. While he didn't throw for 200 yds and 3 TD's, he displayed a complete grasp of the new offense and kept all WR's as well as his TE involved in the passing game. Backup Steven Jackson came in and picked up where Gordy left off leading the team on it's longest drive and also completing passes to multiple targets. While both looked good, neither out performed the other. This will be a true QB competition for the first time in over a decade in Racine. Oh.... Gordy's last name?? Bittner. Let the marinate for a minute. Gordy Bittner, QB for the Racine Threat.
The final change to the team is that of the coaching staff. Carl Bunch has taken over as Special teams coach and Tim Thompson returns as his assistant. Paul Zanotti, of the 2009 championship team has returned to take over as Defensive Coordinator. Alongside of him returns last years assistant Mike Chlebos and our legal counsel Jeremy Chavez. Dan Saldana, who coached many years with Coach Pardo, takes over as the new Offensive Coordinator. His assistants include returning assistant Nick Aiello, as well as new assistants Drew Jacobson and Jesse Booker.
The new motto is “It's R Time”. Every coach can see it, and every player believes it. But it's not about hopes and dreams. Teams aren't successful based on their potential. It's all about execution. And one game into the pre-season, that will be the focus going forward. They no longer need to recruit talent, nor do they need to be reminded of their past success. They need to move as one unit, 53 men, execute their assignments and most of all; believe in the man next to them. For those who weren't aware, football season is here.... and “It's R Time”.