Rocky River program looks to show how much its grown
by Andrew Stark
Rocky River High School football coach Jason Fowler is looking forward to seeing the progress his Ravens team makes on the field this season. While excited, the third-year coach is also cautiously optimistic.
“We are so much farther along than where we have been,” Fowler said. “But we have flashes where we are great, and we have moments where the bottom falls out. We haven’t figured out how to consistently do it yet.
“We have a bunch of lead-by-example guys, but we don’t have a lot of vocal leaders that will grab someone by the facemask. Building a leader is tough, and that has been our biggest struggle.”
For the Ravens, consistency on the field has taken time to develop, but Fowler feels that things are coming together.
As a new program during the 2010 season, the Ravens did not win a game and only once topped 13 points on offense. They also started nine freshmen and expected the growing pains they endured.
Last year, Rocky River won three games, including its first Southwestern 4A conference win – a 35-0 triumph over East Mecklenburg.
This year, the nine Ravens who were forced to be starters as freshmen are now juniors who have been in the system and know what the coaches expect of them. With an offensive line that returns four starters, the Rocky River program is on track to take the next step.
Fowler said that the defensive backfield, led by senior all-conference choice Sidney Lawson and junior Lamar Hood, will be a strong point. Senior quarterback Andre Rice returns with his team-high 13 total touchdowns.
Despite the experienced returnees, Fowler noted, there is still work to do.
“We want to get better, but I don’t want to put a certain number of wins on it,” he said. “We are not where we want to be, we are not on the level of the Butlers of the league, but we are working toward that.”
Fowler said the team’s depth chart constantly is changing, even with the Aug. 17 season opener against West Mecklenburg less than a month away.
“Absolutely, it changes every day,” Fowler said. “We tell the guys that they have to compete every day because there are people behind them looking to take their position.”
Fowler said he is excited about the arrival of two players in particular: tight end Brandon Armstrong and running back Deron Davis. Davis, a junior, was the Ravens’ leading rusher as a freshman with 276 yards but played on the JV squad last season. In the JV finale against Myers Park, Davis rushed for 307 yards.
“Deron has played varsity before, but he was too good to sit on the sidelines on Friday last year (behind now-graduated Carlton Brown),” Fowler said. “He will not be intimidated by playing varsity.”
Armstrong took last season off after breaking different legs as an eighth- and ninth-grader but should provide leadership and pass-catching skills to an offense that lost more than 70 percent of its receiving yards, forcing the coaching staff to utilize a more run-oriented attack this season.
“We have always been a balanced team,” Fowler said. “This year we are going to rely more on the run. In the past, we were 60-40 (run-to-pass ratio), but this year we will be more like 70-30.”
When Fowler took the job, he said he figured the Ravens would be about where they are now.
“The players have bought into our philosophies,” Fowler said. “It is getting easier because they know our expectations. We never have had everyone buy into everything we were trying to do the first two years.
“These are our kids, so that helps. Our attitude is a lot better than it has been, and our work ethic is a whole lot better than it has been.”