High turnover rate for defending state champions
An important battle looms for the Whittell High football team this weekend as the Warriors host Right of Passage for first place in the Northern 2A League. The game was moved to Zephyr Cove campus from ROP due to problems with the Rams’ field.
ROP is the defending state champion after a phenomenal run through the playoffs that no one expected. Due to the nature of the school, which has a primary objective of giving troubled kids a second chance in life, only two players return from last year’s championship team.
After losing their first game of the 2006 year to Incline, the Rams finished the regular season 6-3. In the playoff opener, they traveled to Battle Mountain and upset the unbeaten Longhorns. Following that shocking win, ROP beat top-seed Needles, then Lincoln County in the championship.
“It was the first state championship in football in the history of the school,” ROP coach Willie Taylor said. “Winning really gave our kids a lot of self esteem. The way they held their heads up, you could tell they really felt good about themselves.”
For coach Taylor, the challenges of dealing with such turnover can be frustrating, but the rewards far outweigh the negatives.
“There is a sense of fulfillment in seeing the progress these kids make,” Taylor said. “Most have never played organized football. We start each year telling them where the butt pad and the knee pad go.
“We teach them life through sports – if you set goals and are willing to work, good things happen. This was the lesson the kids learned last year,” Taylor said. “Some of these kids wouldn’t talk to each other before because they may have been from different neighborhoods, but now work together as teammates.”
Seeing the young men succeed is what makes the hard work and challenges worthwhile for Taylor and the others who teach at the school.
“Of the 30 on the team last year, I only know of one who has gotten in trouble,” Taylor said. “Several, who have eligibility left, have gone back to their former high schools and are playing ball, while others are working and going to school.”
ROP, (1-1) began the year with a 39-15 trouncing of Incline, but lost last week to a sister school in Arizona.
“It was about 115 degrees at the game,” Taylor said. “The kids realized how much more work they have to do. I think we are turning the corner. We don’t have the size we had last year, but may be quicker.”
Taylor expects a very competitive game against Whittell on Saturday.
“It was a 360-degree turn from the team we played two years ago, to last year’s team,” he said. “They have very good coaching, and their quarterback (Roberto Concha-Foley) is good.”
For the Warriors to beat the defending champs, the passing game will have to be utilized more than last week, when the offense ran almost exclusively in the 40-6 win over Hawthorne.