Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet
It’s not starting over, but it’s pretty close.
Bay returns just seven starters and 15 lettermen for the 2013 high school football season. Head coach Ryan Gorius, entering his fourth season at the helm of the Bay program, graduated 18 seniors off a team that went 3-7 overall.
There are plenty of new faces dotting the Rocket roster, but enough familiar faces to provide experience and leadership early on. For example, senior Jake Best (6-1, 195) returns at starting quarterback to run the Rockets’ pro style offense. He’ll also start on defense at linebacker, according to Gorius.
While some may see the team’s youth and overall inexperience as a hurdle, Gorius sees things in an different light.
“I think we’re learning from our faults from last season,” he said. “We’re looking at where we fell short, turnovers, just mentally being with it...and attitude. Sometimes, even if you have a lot of seniors, it doesn’t mean you have a team.
“As a team this year, we’re doing more things together. We believe in each other, and we’re working hard. The huge difference is in our attitude overall. The difference has been like night and day,” he added.
Senior starters returning this season, along with Best, are center/defensive tackle Jake Fowler (6-1, 260), tight end James Dudek (5-11, 180), cornerback/running back Tyler Campbell (5-9, 175), linebacker/fullback Cody Wright (6-1, 195), wide receiver/safety Jacob MacMillan (5-11, 180), guard/linebacker Joe Perrault (5-9, 200) and tackle/defensive end Tyler Shank (6-4, 200).
Top returning juniors include Alec White (6-2, 180), a member of the soccer team who will handle the kicking duties. Also back are guard/linebacker Sam Notarberardino (5-9, 190), tckle/defensive end Matt Beniard (6-0, 230), wide receiver/corner back Danny Heideloff (5-7, 155) and tackle/defensive end Peter Sullivan (6-2, 210).
After that, however, the roster is loaded with underclassmen and inexperienced upper classmen.
“I need these guys to get experience quickly,” admitted Gorius.
“They need to get out there and not be deer in the headlights. We had 18 seniors, and many of them played both ways for us. As a result, some of these haven’t seen a snap of varsity football.
“We’ve got young guys moving up, and we have a number of players returning to the team after not playing football for two years. We’ve got guys like Will Wilson, who is very quick, coming back. But those types of kids, and some who have never played at varsity speed, they need to get experience...and fast.
“They need to get over the awe real fast, and go out there and play,” he added.
Gaining experience quickly may not prove to be an easy task, especially when the Rockets get into the West Shore Conference schedule. But Gorius said he and his team welcome the challenge.
“It’s a gauntlet,” Gorious said of the Rockets’ 2013 schedule. “But moving back to Division IV is good for us, I think. We don’t play many schools in that division, though, so that makes for a tough schedule for us. We’re playing a couple of Division I and Division II teams, but I’m excited about it.
“Our youth can be a strength for us,” Gorious said. “Not being on the field last year, they saw our downfalls, but they didn’t really experience them. So in that regard, they’re the future. They don’t have to do what teams here have done in the past.
“They can do whatever they want to do. This group is every bit as talented, every bit as quick and every bit as deep. It’s just a matter of the mental game. I think this team is going to be mentally stronger.
“That can help us win some of those games that got away from us last year,” he added.
The Rockets, in their seven losses, lost six of them by an average of six points. They had leads late in the game three times and lost them all in the final minutes. And Bay had the lead at one point in five of those six games.
“You build a lead, you hold the lead and you maintain the lead. We’ve been able to do two of the three last year and the years before that. We’re losing by six points a game, so that’s a touchdown.
“It’s been because of the little things, like handling in-game situations, taking control of the ball and each player doing his job out there. Those are things that we can control that we let get out of control last year.
“When things don’t go your way, when they don’t go as planned, how do we respond? We haven’t been able to respond in a way that will help us pull out those close games. Most of the games we play are going to be tight, so doing the little things can make a huge difference for us,” he added.
Gorius is also hoping the 2013 version of Rocket football can turn around last year’s trend of going winless at home. They’ll get their first shot Friday night when they host Orange at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
(You can follow us on Twitter @BeAFanatic!)