WEST SUNBURY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The record told a story. The final scores spun a similar yarn.
(Photos by Kathy Sutton)
But beneath the surface, Moniteau football coach Bob Rottman believed his team was much better than 1-9 last season.
“You eliminate a few plays, things are a lot different,” Rottman said. “We gave up a lot of big plays and didn’t get many ourselves.”
That conspired to produce a long, trying season for the Warriors.
But each year, things begin anew. There is a level of confidence at Moniteau these days that belies the struggles of the past.
Maybe that’s because 6-foot-5 quarterback David Dessicino is back, more experienced and poised to have a breakout campaign throwing the ball. Maybe that’s because bruising back Matt Martino is healthy again after battling injuries. Maybe that’s because guys like Hunter Stalker showed flashes of brilliance last season that has the Warriors thinking of a major rebound.
“I think we’re going to see a different product on the field,” Rottman said. “We return probably eight starters on each side of the ball, and even the ones who didn’t start played a lot because we rotated through quite a bit with young guys. We had a really good offseason, and I think you’re going to see a big difference in the results.”
Four starting offensive linemen return on offense. All 11 projected starters on defense saw plenty of playing time in 2021.
“I’ll throw it out there as a challenge — I think the strength of our football team is going to be our offensive line,” Rottman said. “They’ve worked hard and they are going to be faster than those lines they go up against. My challenge to them is to be the best offensive line in District 9 football.”
If they come even close to that goal, that may mean big things for an offense that does have some firepower at the skill positions.
Rottman said that may mean loosening the leash on Dessicino at quarterback.
He certainly has the size and arm strength. The question is consistency, something he struggled with last season as a sophomore in his first year as a starter.
Dessicino still managed to pass for 767 yards in Moniteau’s conservative, run-heavy attack. He also rushed for another 406 yards — second on the team.
But what the Warriors like to do — and what they have done best over the years under Rottman and coaches before him — is run the football.
In Martino, who led the team with 523 yards rushing last year; Stalker, who added 403 yards; and Matt Baptiste, Moniteau has the running back combination they crave.
A banger and some speedsters.
“We’ll play to our talent,” Rottman said. “We’ll play to what we do best as a team. We always maintain that we want to be physical on the football field first and then hopefully grow out of that. We do want to throw the ball not just when we have to.”
Rottman hasn’t anointed anyone, though, top roles yet.
He wants to see competition in camp and preseason practices.
“When you’re 1-9, nobody is set in stone,” Rottman said. “I want everyone fighting for playing time. I think that’ll bring out their best.”
Junior tight end Brock Beachem is one of those guys clawing for some playing time.
Beachem said he already sees a difference in the team this year as opposed to last season.
“Last year it was kind of a rebuilding year,” Beachem said. “We had a lot of new people, a lot of freshmen were starting. It was their first year ever. This year we have a lot of seniors who are really good leaders and the freshmen are now sophomores and they’ve worked really hard. We’re stronger, faster, and way more agile. I feel like we can do some things this year.”
To do that, Moniteau must conquer the mental game.
Fast starts and a few early wins could go a long way toward a bounce-back season.
“We’ve been young. It seems like we’ve been young every year,” Rottman said. “This is the first year we’ve had a big group of seniors. I think that senior leadership will carry out on the field with the mental toughness, not just the physical. They’ll be big in the close games when you fall behind a little bit to keep fighting and figure it out.”
Last year Rottman could sometimes feel that confidence drain out of his team when something went wrong, or when the Warriors fell behind by a score.
Those close games quickly turned into losses by several touchdowns.
“When that happens as a coach, there’s really nothing you can do about it from the sideline,” Rottman said. “That’s where the leadership and the identity of the team, of the seniors, come in. This is their last shot as seniors. Whatever happens this year, that’s their legacy.”
The seniors are taking that seriously.
They are also approaching the early parts of the preseason with urgency.
“Camp is really going to be important in establishing the mental toughness we’re gonna have,” said senior offensive and defensive tackle Mike Boozel. “If we come out in camp and practice the way we are going to play in the first game, we’ll have a shot this year.”
Moniteau will also see some new teams on its schedule in the reshuffled District 9 league format.
The Warriors are in Region 1 with Bradford, DuBois, Punxsutawney, St. Marys, Central Clarion, Karns City and Brookville.
Moniteau will also play non-conference games against Elk County Catholic, Cameron County and Keystone.
“We’ve played the same schedule for four years in a row,” Rottman said. “It’s nice to see the changes just to see different teams.”