By Kevin Cummings
Where there is a purpose, there is a plan. Where there is a will, there is a way...or maybe a win.
Springfield head football coach Dave Connelly, who is in his third year at the helm, has had a purpose and a plan from the day he logged on with the Blue Devils. The 'will' also has been there among both the players and coaching staff.
The wins? Well let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. In his first year, Coach Connelly's Blue Devils won just 3-of-10 games. Last campaign the Royal Blue and White mustered up just two wins-both Northern Lakes League victories.
The attitude around the Springfield practice field this year? Well, there is an attitude-a bad taste in the mouths of those who have been with the program attitude.
These athletes want to win, are ready to win and fully expect to win.
"Our numbers are up, and that's a huge thing for a team," Coach Connelly said of his 60 plus players out for football. "I [we] also finally have a big senior class , which provides the leadership a team needs. "We lost a number of seniors, four of whom will really be hard to replace. But the group of seniors I have this year are making a huge difference both in the locker room and on the playing field. You can sense their impact on the younger kids."
The four key losses include First Team All-NLL selection Andrew Krajicek and Second Team picks Matt Rogers, Kellen Taylor and Ismail Zafer.
"Four great football players who will be hard to replace," Coach Connelly said. "We're hoping someone can step up and fill their shoes."
Rogers and Krajicek are walk-on players at the University of Toledo, while Zafer is playing at Denison. There is no secret around the NLL, the area, or even the state for that matter as to who is the key to starting the Blue Devils' success engine this year.
Fair or not, quarterback Eric Page will shoulder much of the team's play-making responsibilities. Page, a senior, is currently being recruited by six Big Ten teams and all MAC schools. Last season he was named First Team All-NLL and Second Team All-Ohio.
"Eric is a special and gifted athlete," Coach Connelly said. "We [Springfield] may not see another athlete like him for quite some time. "He is a threat every time the ball is in his hands."
Senior Blue Devils supporting Page on the offensive side of the ball include center Jeff Schoch, tackles Dominic Apostoli and Neil Rodriguez, guard Gary Times, receivers Tony Shepler, Tyler Grogg and Jacob Glover, and fullback Damian Smith.
Juniors Christian Pfaff, a lineman, and receiver Tino Hartley also will be counted on for key contributions, as will backup signal-caller Dirk Ruckman.
"I really like our offense," Coach Connelly said of his 'spread' attack. "We have the talent and ability to score a lot of points."
Springfield burned the lights out on many a scoreboard last year. The problem turned out to be stopping the opposing team from burning them out more quickly. No matter the sport, it is said defense wins games.
Anchoring the Devils' defense are seniors, Grogg (cornerback), Glover (outside linebacker), Smith (defensive end), Rick Meek (inside linebacker), and Christian Iwuagwu, who also will spend time on the offensive side of the ball. Juniors John Guercio (inside linebacker), Kenny Guercio (tackle), Josh Chung (nose guard), Patrick Hartman (end), Chris Isby (strong safety), Jairus Pam (cornerback), Raymond Watson (free safety) and Huntley (defensive back) will also defend the Blue Devil fort.
"We simplified our defense," Coach Connelly said. "That was one of our first priorities. We will be a more attacking style defense. "We will basically be running a 4-2-5 defense that looks a lot like a 4-4."
With a light flickering at the end of his Blue Devils' tunnel, Coach Connelly sees it shining on the fields of Southview, Perrysburg, and Bowling Green.
"This league is so competitive, it is hard to predict a winner," the head mentor said. "You better come out ready to play every week or you are going to find yourself in trouble. Our goal is to win more than we lose and I feel like we will be in every game we play. "We are far from where we want to be, but ahead of where we were my first two years. I see this team in the upper half of the league."
Coach Connelly, despite a 5-15 overall record, remains upbeat.
"We have a great attitude and great team chemistry," Coach Connelly said. "This season the kids seem like they are willing to go the extra mile and they are very excited. It's hard not to be excited when Eric (Page) is running the show. "I think we are on the [NLL] radar screen, and I think we are in for a special season."