Football: Enthusiasm running high at St EdwardSt. Edward players run drills during practice earlier this week in Elgin. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Mike Rolando during his seven years as St. Edward’s football coach, it’s that he maintains his enthusiasm through thick and thin.
This summer, however, Rolando seems to be even more amped up than usual.
From the preseason questionnaire he sent out in mid-May to the energetic practices he is leading three times a week this month, Rolando is building up a full head of steam going into the 2012 campaign, which kicks off Aug. 24. And to hear Rolando explain it, there’s plenty or reason for the excitement.
“We’ve had record numbers out for our summer practices, starting with the 60 kids we had out for our first practice June 4,” Rolando said. “The kids had been talking about football for the last three months and were counting down the days to summer practice. When they get excited, the coaches get excited and we kind of feed off each other.”
The Green Wave made back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in program history in 2009 and 2010, but a switch to the ultra-competitive Suburban Christian Blue Division played a role in halting St. Edward’s momentum as it narrowly missed out on a third straight trip to the postseason with a 4-5 record last fall.
Most of the key contributors from the past three seasons are now gone, including four 2012 graduates who will continue their careers in college. Lineman Evan Finnane is bound for Army, lineman Zack McQueen will suit up for Concordia University in Wisconsin, quarterback Bob French has committed to Augustana and linebacker/running back Luke Duffy will play football and baseball at Washington University in St. Louis.
In the wake of those departures, only eight or nine seniors figure to be in the mix this fall, but a big group of juniors are ready to step into leading roles as St. Edward eyes a return to the playoffs.
The task is easier said than done, though, as the Wave learned last year while navigating a daunting SCC schedule that included Class 5A state champion Montini and Class 3A state champion Aurora Christian. The road figures to be just as challenging in 2012 for the Wave, which is by far the smallest school in the loaded SCC Blue.
“Those two years we made the playoffs the program really created a buzz,” Rolando said. “The kids remember that and they were all on the sideline with that group that won a playoff game (in 2010), and that’s where they want to get.
“They understand they have to get five wins, and looking at the schedule they understand there’s not an easy game on there. They’re going to have to work for everything they get this year.”
Junior running back Davontae Elam is one returning player with noteworthy varsity experience. He racked up 751 rushing yards on 123 carries during his freshman and sophomore seasons and will be asked to shoulder a heavier load this year.
Elam and the rest of his teammates will ramp up to four practices a week starting in the second week of July, and the workouts figure to only get more intense as Rolando looks to squeeze the most out of the 25 contact days he’s allowed to have with his players during the summer prior to the start of two-a-days in August.
“It’s St. Eds football, and you really don’t get a break and you don’t get to come off the field,” Rolando said. “Our best kids play and they play full time, so we’re out here in the summer really getting them in shape and trying to condition them so that they don’t have to come off the field.”
Busy summer for Schabert
Larkin is also hard at work preparing for the 2012 season, but for senior lineman Alex Schabert, the summer includes more than just practices with his team.
A two-time All-Upstate Eight River selection, Schabert is busy traveling to various camps throughout the country in an effort to brush up his game and raise his profile among Division I coaches. He recently attended camps at Wisconsin, Michigan and Northern Illinois and has another camp coming up in Florida.
Schabert is already a load to handle at 6-foot-2 and 315 pounds, and Royals coach Mike Scianna says his standout player might have room to grow since he is young for his class. Schabert’s natural position is center, but he’s slated to play right guard this fall for Larkin while likely also seeing time on the defensive line.
“Alex is getting some college looks, but I’m not quite sure what’s going to come down the pipe for him,” Scianna said. “We’re hoping for the best.”
Scianna noted that Schabert is attracting interest from a number of Division I and Division II schools. Schabert is the son of longtime Larkin assistant Terry Schabert and the nephew of South Elgin coach Dale Schabert, details Scianna says shouldn’t be lost on college recruiters.
“His whole family is in football and he’s kind of got it in his blood,” Scianna said. “I think he can help any program out because he’s basically a coach on the field. His football IQ is great and he’s really smart as far as a football player goes.”
Scianna hopes coaches checking out Schabert also take a look at senior Adam Hamiel, a 6-2, 270-pound right tackle who is also going into his third year as a varsity starter. Senior running back Mo Jackson is another key returner for the Royals, who look to improve on last year’s 3-6 finish.
Mark your calendar
Elgin football fans can get a sneak preview of what to expect from all the city’s teams this fall when St. Edward hosts its 7-on-7 tournament the evening of July 20 at Greg True Field.
Elgin, Larkin and Streamwood will join the Green Wave for the event, which will also feature a lineman challenge. Adding to the local flavor, Westminster Christian’s brand new football program will bring its JV squad to scrimmage against St. Edward’s sophomore team prior to the varsity event.