This week we completely drop the "Power Rankings" title and just go to a "Prep Football Report" format, which I like a lot better.
I finally had a chance to see the South Milwaukee Rockets play last week at Burlington. I have an old coaching friend who happens to be a Burlington native, a guy who had played and coached for the Demons as well as South Milwaukee, so I gave him a call and we met up at the game. We were hoping for a close, exciting contest between two evenly matched teams. What we got was three-quarters of the way there, and that doesn't even take into account the shock of seeing the Rockets-- yes, South Milwaukee's own red and white-- in the shotgun formation for the first time in my entire life. (I'm not sure how I feel about that. It was just... well... strange.)
The teams actually were evenly matched talent-wise, and the game was exciting-- featuring some great plays and one or two things that really impressed me-- but thanks to turnovers and some unfortunate field position on the part of South Milwaukee, it was never really close. We got to catch up with a couple old coaching friends after the game, and they told us more or less the same things we'd observed-- with just a little more consistency and attention to detail, the kids wearing red and white could be a lot better record-wise than 0 - 4.
Thing is, it's those little things that always seem to separate the vast majority of teams in high school football. Sure, you've got the rare teams that are either immensely talented or can just plain wear opponents down through attrition (think Arrowhead's 80-man roster), and the unfortunate few that don't have enough players to really stand a chance against their competition, but by and large-- from a "talent level" perspective-- if you've seen one prep team play, you've seen them all. Or at least eighty percent of them.
What comes between them? What separates a conference champ from a group that finishes 0 - 8? More often than not, it's the things we saw (or didn't see, in some cases) on display from South Milwaukee and Burlington last week. Confidence. Fumbles and interceptions. Decent length on kickoffs and kick returns. Lane integrity on kick coverage. Hang time and coverage on punts. Staying true to your assignment. Trust in the techniques your coaches teach you and in teammates' ability to be where they're supposed to be. And over and above all of this, momentum, Lee Corso's "Big Mo", because when you get that on your side it can sometimes make up for little slips in all of the above.
Those Rockets do have some good things going for them, and I hope they don't let 0 - 4 get them down. Two plays in particular stick out in my mind as building blocks.
1) On a called drop-back pass in the second half, the SM QB (a right-handed thrower) was flushed from the pocket to his left. Scrambling for his life, a Burlington player in pursuit, the kid turned his shoulders on the run to face up perfectly and throw downfield. His footwork wasn't quite there yet and the throw fell incomplete as a result, but wow. That kid is a sophomore. If he works and practices the way he should, next year this kid is going to make that throw, and look out.
2) Late in the first half, an open SM receiver dropped a deep ball with nothing but green grass (as Coach Brad Knoche used to say) between him and the end zone. The drop happened, plain and simple, because he tried to catch it with his body and not his hands. Two or three plays later, they hit the same kid on a quick slant. He reached up and caught a much tougher ball-- with his hands, not his body. Lesson learned. That kid was a junior.
You may gather from the above that I'm a big fan of the philosophy whereby a man isn't judged by his successes, but rather how he responds to his failures. South Milwaukee played a lot of underclassmen against Burlington, and let me tell you this: If those kids respond to these "failures" in a positive way-- if they learn from them and adjust the things they do to eliminate those mistakes, if they work harder in the offseason and at practice to get better-- they will make a lot of noise next year.
Heck, they can still make that noise next week if they're fast learners.
St. Thomas More Cavaliers: Apparently these guys showed up at Brown Deer and were immediately ushered into a track meet, because the final score hit right around 100 for total points scored by both teams. Best sign for Thomas More (beyond the first 'W', that is)? Two running backs going over 100 yards each. If they can set up that passing game of theirs with a successful running attack (or even the threat of one), they will put a lot of points on the board. I've seen some lights-out play from their defense before (against Eisenhower) so you know they've got the ability on that side of the ball as well. If I'm a Cavaliers fan, I'm getting excited about their chances to put those first three games in the rear-view mirror and put a nice second half together.
St. Francis Mariners: I said the game with Springs would be a good one, and it went down to the wire. And I missed it. One of these weeks I'm going to have to catch this team. Tonight might be a good choice-- facing Rob Stoltz and the Greendale Panthers. As a split end in Greendale's old Wing-T (I think six teams in the Suburban Park ran that blasted Wing-T), Coach Stoltz single-handedly destroyed our overmatched secondary my senior year in high school. I wouldn't mind seeing the Mariners hang the first 'L' on his team this year.
Cudahy Packers: Wow. What happened to these guys against Pewaukee? Hmmm... I did pick them, as it happens. Maybe if I stop picking Cudahy, they'll win again. Hmmm. Then again, they're Cudahy. I went to South Milwaukee. Hmmm. Okay, I can't help myself-- this week, I predict the Cudahy Packers will destroy New Berlin Eisenhower.
Oak Creek, Bay View: It's hard for me to comment much more on these teams when I haven't seen them play. I'll take submissions though....