Disabato: Brother Rice could surprise under Brian Badke032509/ studio
Pat Disabato sports writer southtownstar ( photo by Carol Dorsett)
He has always dreamed of one day overseeing a high school football program.
After spending 13 years as an assistant at St. Xavier University, for Brian Badke, 37, his dream finally came to fruition.
The fact that it’s occurring at his high school alma mater, Brother Rice, makes the career move that much sweeter.
Icing on the cake, if you will.
“It’s a passion of mine,” said Badke, a 1992 Rice graduate, of coaching. “I’m really excited. To be able to come back to Brother Rice is a dream come true.”
Badke’s hiring should add another level of craziness to Crusader Nation. That’s not a knock on Steve Nye, who left Rice for a head coaching position at York. Nye’s a very good coach — 97-59 in 13 years — and quality person.
But even he admitted it was time for a change.
Badke, with his love for Rice, a deep knowledge of the game and experience at St. Xavier, is the right man at the right time.
Badke was born to coach. His father, George, was head football coach at St. Laurence and Fenwick and will be on the sidelines helping Brian.
Badke’s grandfather, Bernard, was head basketball coach at St. Rita in the 1950s.
“The Badke’s are kind of a cradle of coaches,” Brian said. “I grew up in a locker room while my dad was coaching.”
When Badke began his coaching career at St. Xavier, the Cougars were a nobody, finishing 4-6 in his very first season.
That would be the last time St. Xavier finished below .500 the next 12 years. The Cougars developed into a national power, having captured the NAIA National Championship last season and the preseason No. 1 spot this season.
Head coach Mike Feminis and his staff didn’t accomplish that by playing old school, smashmouth football. No, they did it by implementing a no-huddle, spread offense that keeps opponents gasping for air.
Badke watched it every day.
Rice won’t abandon the run, but Badke is well aware it must open up the passing game, something Nye was criticized for not doing more.
While a pass-happy approach doesn’t guarantee a state championship, Rice fans should be excited about the possibilities and watching a modern offense.
“As an offense, we’re going to take what the defense gives us,” said Badke, who played football and baseball at St. Francis. “If there’s five guys in the box, we’re going to pound the ball. If our best receiver is being defended man-to-man, we’re going to take advantage of that. We’re going to be explosive.”
And Rice has the personnel at the skill positions to live up to that boast.
Senior quarterback Matt Page, at 6-foot-4 and blessed with a strong arm, provides a deep-ball threat.
Running back Marcus Jones and receiver Luke Mueller lead a cast of capable end zone threats.
The offensive line, led by Nick Zawaski and Jim Gannon, is very solid.
Finding the end zone should not be a major issue.
“This offense has the potential to put up a lot of points,” Badke said.
Despite reports to the contrary, Nye didn’t leave the cupboard bare of talent. The Crusaders, if they can avoid the injury bug, are capable of competing in the Catholic Blue and qualifying for the playoffs.
However, a lack of depth in the junior class — only 19 played on last year’s sophomore team — places a major emphasis on the senior class remaining healthy.
“It’s not a lack of talent with the junior class, just a lack of numbers,” said Badke, who resides in Beverly, with wife, Amy, sons Mickey and Jack, and daughters Bridget and Elizabeth. “We have to market Rice better and get more kids in the school. We have excellent academics and outstanding facilities. More bodies creates more competition. It brings out the best in players. The sophomore and freshmen groups numbers are very good.
“(Former St. Xavier and UIC men’s hoops coach) Bob Hallberg once told me ‘you never heard of a jackass winning the Kentucky Derby.’ You got to have the horses.”
Yes you do.