Anna has come a long way in a short time, going from not having a varsity football program a decade ago to posting a 9-1 record while playing in the premier small school athletic conference in the state (the MAC). Still, there is unfinished business and the Rockets have the horses this year again to get it done.
* Players To Watch – QB Wesley Hunsucker (6-3, 190, Sr.; 110-191, 1,734 yards, 20 TD, 10 INT), RB Kameron Knight (6-2, 170, Sr.; 95 carries, 800 yds, 10 TD), TE Alex Fogt (6-1, 220, Jr.; 10 catches, 120 yards, 2 TDs), LB Josh Parker (6-0, 185, Sr.; 90 tackles, 2 INT, TD)
* Outlook – The Anna Rockets have come a long way in a short time, going from not having a varsity football program a decade ago to posting a 9-1 record while playing in the premier small school athletic conference in the state. Even though that 9-1 regular season ended on a somewhat sour note for the Rockets after falling to Midwest Athletic Conference foe Maria Stein Marion Local in Week 1 of the playoffs despite having defeated them the previous week, head coach Bryan Rioch still showed satisfaction with the overall results.
“I think we progressed pretty well from the beginning of the season to the end,” Rioch said. “I think we got a lot better. Obviously going 9-1 in that league and your two losses are coming to Coldwater and Marion Local, you have to be pretty happy with that. But by the same token, one of the purposes or one of the rationales for going into that league was once you get into the playoffs, you have the opportunity to be as good as anybody and win the whole thing, and it was a little disappointing to run into Marion Local after already having played them the week before.
“But getting away from that, just taking a look at the whole thing, I think that the program generally took a step forward.”
Anna’s young program has already had a fine run of success, making the playoffs in each of their first six seasons. But it was last year where the team discovered that they have reached the point where they can go toe-to-toe with the state’s best teams.
“I think that one of the things the kids learned last year was, ‘Hey, we can play with anybody,’ so the mystique of the Coldwaters and the Marion Locals is probably not as much as it used to be, and I think that they have some confidence coming into this season,” Rioch said.
The cupboard is far from bare for the Rockets this season as seven starters return on offense and six on defense. However, Rioch says the offensive and defensive lines could be a concern.
“We’ve got a lot of question marks in terms of line play,” Rioch said. “We graduate four of our five offensive linemen, and we were pretty good up front, so that’s a big question mark. We feel like we have some young kids that can step up. Potentially, we won’t be as big, but we’ll be probably more athletic. All our skill kids are back, which is a big positive — quarterback, all three running backs, one of the two wideouts, our tight end. Potentially, we could be be pretty good, but like I said, we have a lot of questions to answer up front.”
Among the key returning players will be senior running back Kameron Knight, who won first team All-MAC honors in 2008, and two-year starter Wesley Hunsucker at quarterback, who won second team honors. Rioch believes Hunsucker’s experience will mean a lot to the offense.
“It’s a big deal,” Rioch said. “It allows you to do so many things from an offensive perspective and a leadership perspective. He’s not only a senior returner, but he started as a sophomore as well. He’s got great command of the offense, he’s got great command of the huddle, he knows where to put guys, and he knows not just the plays but the concept of the plays and what we’re trying to get done. So obviously that instills a lot of confidence in the rest of the players and elevates their level as well.”
Knight, meanwhile, is a sprinter who will give the Rockets plenty of speed out of the backfield.
“The kid’s a blur,” Rioch said regarding Knight’s speed.
In addition to the skill positions, Rioch feels the special teams will be a team strength.
“Special teams is going to be a big point of emphasis for us,” he said. “Since we do have a lot of specialty skills back — punter, long snappers — we think we could probably take advantage of that in some of our games.”
One area that Rioch would like to see improvement in is the little things. He expects the Rockets to be sweating the details this year.
“One of the things we’re going to put a big emphasis on is attention to detail, making sure that we do the little things right — finishing the play off, finishing the block off,” Rioch said. “When we go back and break our film down, a lot of times when we gave up scores, it wasn’t anything other than we lined up wrong or executed the wrong assignment. So we’re going to do a better job paying attention to detail.”
As is always the case for any MAC team, Anna’s schedule will be rugged. The Rockets miss out on having to play one major conference foe this season, but the schedule is still filled with land mines.
“Trying to be an optimist, we don’t have to play Delphos St. John’s, who’s got everybody back from a team that won the state championship, so that’s the positive part of that,” Rioch said. “We have Coldwater and Lehman (Catholic), two teams who went pretty deep in the playoffs in our first five games. We end the season with Marion Local, so week in and week out, it’s a playoff atmosphere with playoff-caliber teams. Arguably, every one of the teams in our conference could have jumped into their respective regions and made a run. That’s the nice thing about it — every week is playoff atmosphere, and that gets you battle ready.”
The optimism and excitement seems to be at a high level with this year’s team, but last year’s football success isn’t the only reason why. Anna High School has had plenty of success in basketball, baseball and track, and Rioch says it has helped feed the desire to win on the gridiron.
“It’s kind of a school atmosphere, not just with football but with everything we do,” Rioch said. “A lot of those kids are football players that do all those other sports, and all those sports are now kind of feeding off each other. You have success in one sport, it kind of carries over to the next one and sets the bar a little higher for the next sport, and so on. It’s not just football; it’s everything, and it’s really kind of neat to see.”
8/28 LEHMAN CATHOLIC (SIDNEY)
9/4 @ WAYNESFIELD-GOSHEN
9/11 @ FORT RECOVERY
9/18 PARKWAY (ROCKFORD)
9/25 @ COLDWATER
10/2 ST HENRY
10/16 @ NEW BREMEN
10/30 @ MARION LOCAL