Football: Inexperienced Sandburg has to work on its strutSandburg quarterback Brendan Conlon looks to deliver a pass during the Richards 7-on-7 camp Saturday, June 16, 2012, at the District 218 ADM Fields in Oak Lawn. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 30, 2012 4:16PM
Rarely has a Sandburg football team entered a training camp with so few proven players. Fresh faces abound after the Eagles started 20 seniors in 2011.
To hear coach Dave Wierzal tell it, the youthful Eagles will use camp to cultivate their bravado.
“The kids are so concerned with doing their best and looking good right now, they don’t have the swagger yet,” Wierzal said. “We’re going to have to work on the swagger.”
Last season’s veteran lineup led Sandburg to six victories, highlighted by wins over Andrew and Homewood-Flossmoor. The team qualified for the postseason, but its playoff stay ended quickly in a first-round loss to Brother Rice.
For now, the postseason isn’t on the radar. Sandburg’s aim is to stay competitive in the burly SouthWest Suburban Blue.
“We’re not in a situation where we can think playoffs. We need to look at them one at time and prepare for it one at time,” Wierzal said. “It’s easy to talk about Andrew, which is our first game, but kids start looking at the schedule: (Lincoln-Way) East, Bolingbrook, Homewood-Flossmoor. Our schedule is so tough and has so many natural rivalries.
“Our goal is to compete at the highest level we can. If we do compete at that level, we’ll be in the mix for a conference championship and to advance in the playoffs. As much as we like to plan like that, we’ll focus on the games as they show up.”
On offense, the lone starter expected back is a good one. Running back Lemonte Booker scored eight touchdowns and rushed for 717 yards on 107 carries last season. His workload likely will to increase, especially since the quarterback handing him the ball and the members of the line blocking for him are yet to be determined.
Senior Brendan Conlon and juniors Sean Leland and Julian Guiterez will vie for the starting spot at quarterback.
“Looking at our roster, we think we have players who can step in and fill those open spots; however, they’re going to be brand new guys with very little playing experience. That’s our concern,” Wierzal said.
On defense, senior Ryan Coughlin looks to lead the huddle. A year of starting experience at middle linebacker has led to growing confidence on the field.
“I can feel the extra experience. The game is definitely slowing down,” Coughlin said. “I was getting yelled at a little more last year; I didn’t really know what I was doing.
“This year, I want to be really encouraging to all the juniors. I’m going to tell them not get down on yourself. If you’re not starting, just keep working hard.”
Coughlin knows firsthand how quickly fortunes can change on the gridiron. His opportunity to start came at an unsuspecting time last season.
“All through camp, there was a kid starting in front of me,” Coughlin said. “I didn’t find out until the Thursday night before (playing) Andrew that I was going to start. I’m not going to lie, it was crazy and a little nerve-racking.”
Sandburg can only hope the majority if its players respond the way Coughlin did a year ago.