PANDORA – With 10 returning letterwinners and a host of starters back, Pandora-Gilboa head coach Chris Myers said the next step in his team being successful this year is getting more physical and eliminating mistakes
Last year the Rockets posted a 5-5 overall mark and 5-3 record in the valley division of the Blanchard Valley Conference and Myers expects to improve on those numbers.
“We lost three seniors but outside of that everybody who played last year is pretty much back,” Myers said. “They are familiar with us. They are familiar with our schemes and what we expect from them so in terms of the cerebral part of the game it has been easier. So now we have to try to catch them up physically so they are able to do the things they are supposed to do,” Myers said. “That is kind of our hurdle right now.”
Another obstacle, and Myers said this is more mental, is that the Rockets need to learn how to win.
“I think you have to learn how to win,” he said. “These guys have been close in games and let it slip away so I think we need to learn how to win some of those close games and take advantage of team’s mistakes better than we have done in the past.”
Another area of concern for Myers is the team’s lack of depth. So avoiding injuries is a must for the Rockets. Myers added they have just nine linemen on the team.
With nearly all the returning starters back, the Rockets defense is expected to be the main cog in their push towards the BVC title.
Gone is leading tackler and linebacker Hunter Hovest, but the Rockets return two of their three linebackers. Back are outside linebacker Zane Traxler (5-8, 165), who recorded 65 tackles, and Riley Marcum (6-2, 175), who played half the season and had 58 tackles.
Anchoring the defensive line will be senior Gunner Stahl (5-9, 185), who recorded 100 tackles, six sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Also back are senior Kyle Verhoff (6-2, 240), a third team, all-league selection, who had six tackles for loss and 28 total tackles.
In the Rockets secondary, Carter Nofziger (6-0, 185), who had five interceptions, returns as the top defensive back, as does Jason Walther (6-0, 185) who had two interceptions and 45 tackles.
Last year, the Rockets ranked sixth overall in team defense in the league, allowing 20 points per game and yielding 260.3 total yards overall.
Offensively, the Rockets were eighth overall in team offense averaging just 237.3 yards a game.
“We are pretty much 50-50 so
Myers said the team runs a spread offense but he likes to keep it balanced at 50-50 in terms of play calling between runs and passes and with Jared Breece (6-1, 170) back as the signal caller, the Rockets look to improve on what they accomplished last year.
As a freshman Breece, who played in nine games last year, threw for 770 yards for four touchdowns and four interceptions.
“He had to play as a freshman because somebody got hurt and he wasn’t really ready to play but he had to,” Myers said. “He had some big time growing pains from that.”
Breece worked with assistant coach Matt Hershey, a former college quarterback at Capital, to elevate his game and Myers said he has seen tremendous improvement in the early preseason workouts this year.
Also back on offense is junior receiver Nofziger who caught 27 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rockets will look to replace all-league running back Hovest and they think they can do so with the Traxler Brothers, Zane and Payton (5-7, 155), who Myers described as ‘hard nosed, tough kids who can run the ball.”
Zane Traxler had 38 carries for 201 yards last year and one touchdown and Payton Traxler added 120 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns.
While he has a veteran squad, Myers knows if they are not physical it will be a touch march through the BVC.
“We play a tougher schedule than we have had in years past,” Myers said. “They have realigned the BVC this year. I would say the first couple of years we had an easier schedule than we had the first couple of years because we didn’t play McComb and Liberty-Benton in season. Now we have them all in season.”
With the traditional opener against Columbus Grove followed by a date with Marion Pleasant Myers said he will know which direction the Rockets are heading after the first two weeks.
“How we play the first couple of weeks will determine how the season will go,” Myers said. “If we play well and win or are competitive it will bid well for the season.