Things have gone well for the Anna Rockets since their varsity football debut. With a playoff appearance in their first season (2000) and consecutive appearances in every year since then through 2005, the Rockets are looking to continue that success in 2007. Kirk Larrabee checks in with more on this year's Rockets.
Key Players: TE/DE Kreg Elsass (6-3, 190, Sr.), QB/DB Joel Nasman (6-0, 170, Sr.), RB/CB Cory Sniffin (5-8, 175, Sr.), G/DE Eric Niekamp (6-4, 210, Jr.), LB/G Alex Hunsucker (6-0, 210, Jr.)
Things have gone well for the Anna Rockets since their varsity football debut. With a playoff appearance in their first season (2000) and consecutive appearances in every year since then through 2005, the Rockets accomplished more in a few years than some schools do over the course of decades.
The successes naturally created a desire to take the next step forward. Last season, the Rockets took such a step, and it was a big one – a spot in the toughest small school conference in Ohio, the Midwest Athletic Conference.
In the first year in the MAC, Anna fell to 6-4 and missed the playoffs for the first time in their history. Rockets head coach Bryan Rioch felt as if his team might have been taken off guard a bit by the strength of the conference, as demonstrated by a disappointing loss to 20-14 overtime loss to a New Bremen team that finished 2-8.
“It didn’t surprise me,” Rioch said. “I think it surprised our kids. Going back to the New Bremen game, we got up 14-0 and in the past, in the league we were in before if you get up 14-0, they’d lay down. Obviously New Bremen wasn’t going to do that. So that didn’t surprise me.
“The quality of opponents didn’t surprise me. You look at the track record – something like 20 football state championships that league has won and four in the last two years by four different teams. The level of competition was obviously excellent and very tough. It’s pretty exciting; it’s fun to be in those types of games every week.”
Anna’s other losses came to three teams that finished with over 40 combined victories last year – state champions St. Henry and Maria Stein Marion Local and Division IV power Coldwater. The Rockets finished in the top half of the standings, but they were not satisfied overall.
“I think we were probably a little disappointed in the final outcome,” Rioch stated. “I think we felt like we lost a game we probably shouldn’t have, so in terms of the overall record we felt like we should have been a little bit better. But I’m sure everybody understands that the league is a bit different than anything else because you have to bring your ‘A’ game every week. We didn’t against New Bremen, and it cost us.
“That league is a meat grinder. We’re happy with some parts of it but we thought it could have been a little better… I think the main thing that we’ve learned is we have to come ready to play every day, every week. If we don’t, obviously we’re going to get exposed, so I think that’s one thing. I think we learned that throughout the course of the year last year. Once we got into the second half of the season coming into Parkway or Minster, we learned that even though their records may not be great, that has no reflection on what kind of teams they could be.”
This year’s Anna squad returns six starters on each side of the ball. Rioch says that just how good this team will be might not be known until some holes are filled.
“It’s hard to tell,” Rioch said. “We’ve got a lot of question marks. We graduated almost all of our skill talent – quarterback, two running backs, and a wide receiver, so we’ve got a lot to replace as far as that goes. Defensively, we graduate some good players… but we feel like we’ve got maybe our best offensive and defensive lines coming back, and we’ve got some good young skill talent that we kind of have see how those kids work out. I think the talent is there but the experience is not.”
The offensive line could be the unit that Anna falls back upon for success while breaking in new players.
“I think that up front we’re going to be pretty good so controlling the line of scrimmage is going to be key for us,” Rioch said. “Regardless of who our quarterback is, we’re going to be new there, so making sure we establish the running game with that experienced line is going to help that quarterback out in terms of throwing the football and not putting a lot of undue pressure on him.
“We’ve got good young talent; we’ve got good young speed. We’ve got some kids who can really run well, but making sure that they can play the varsity level is a different thing, so we’re going to have to make sure that those kids step up and put ourselves in a position to have success.”
Needless to say, Anna’s schedule will be a tough one, as it would be for any team in the Midwest Athletic Conference. Two defending state champions on the slate is just the start.
“There’s really no breaks,” Rioch said. “We start out with Sidney Lehman Catholic, who’s coming off a playoff appearance and have a lot of skill kids back, so I look for them to be pretty good. Our schedule, even though the teams stayed the same, I think got tougher. New Bremen, even though they were 2-8 last year, everybody’s back and I think they’re going to be pretty good.
“Then Coldwater, their best class is their junior class and I think they are going to be better than they were last year. Obviously St. Henry’s going to reload. Delphos St. Johns is going to look to be good, and then a defending state champion in Marion Local. The list goes on and on and on, and then to be honest I think the sleeper of the league is going to be Parkway. I think that’s the team that’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
Anna is one of five teams from the MAC in Region 20, along with Marion Local, Parkway, St. Henry, and Versailles. The margin for error will be small for any of those teams when it comes to making the playoffs.
But Anna seems to be up for the challenge.
“Our kids expect to win all the time,” Rioch said. “They expect to go into a game and at the very least be in a position to win. Our kids look forward to playing great competition. They don’t want to back off of that; they wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Anna 2007 Schedule
|8/25/2007||@ Sidney Lehman Catholic||6|
|9/21/2007||@ Fort Recovery||6|
|10/5/2007||@ Delphos St. John's||6|
|10/19/2007||@ Maria Stein Marion Local||5|