After a rough start to the 2014 football season, Blanchester finished strong by winning three of its last four games.
Three of the Wildcats losses came at the hands of playoff teams. BHS finished 4-6 but lost to Clinton-Massie, Waynesville and Western Brown, all of whom advanced to the post-season a year ago. Another loss was to Div. II Amelia and another was by one point to a 7-3 Batavia squad.
BHS head coach Jack O’Rourke is hoping the 3-1 finish in 2014 and a strong start to the 2015 training camp means better things for the Wildcats.
“The squad’s coming together a little bit each day,” O’Rourke said. “They’re getting a little better, understanding what we’re trying to get accomplished a little bit more.”
Aside from a brutal schedule to open the 2014 season, O’Rourke believes a young squad was part of the reason for the slow start. Once those youngsters got some game experience under their belts, they were better able to execute and win games.
“They’re all getting a little bit better every day,” said O’Rourke. “We’ve been working real hard, not making it too complicated right now. They’re just now starting to grasp it.”
O’Rourke said there are approximately 65 players out for the team in grades 9-12. On the BHS roster, there are 18 juniors and 24 freshmen. While some coaches would be distressed with those numbers, especially the fact there are just 10 seniors on the team, O’Rourke is not.
“Most of our seniors are linemen,” he said, a wry smile on his face knowing the foundation of a team is what’s up front. “Tomas Oldham and Jed Turpin are our two team captains and offensive linemen. That’s why I say we’re leaning heavily on those guys right now.”
O’Rourke also noted Matt Burden has been a dominant player for the Wildcats on both sides of the ball this fall.
“He’s been very, very good overall, giving a great effort all summer long,” said the coach.
O’Rourke pointed to Nick Grogg as a strong leader by “taking whatever I give him. Today he lined up, actually the last two days, he’s been at fullback. He’s been a split end. He’s been a tight end. He’s been an H-back. He’s accepted his role real well. He’s leading in that he’s accepting whatever we throw at him.”
The coach said Dylan Fawley, a junior lineman, has been one of the surprises of early camp.
“He really didn’t get any varsity time whatsoever last year,” O’Rourke said. “But he’s really come out and give us some quality time at tackle. He’s really come out of his shell and has grown up. I hope he can continue that.”
O’Rourke said Tristan Greene and Jordan Stroud have performed well at quarterback.
“We have some stuff to work on. We’re not there by any means but we’re getting better every day,” the coach said.
O’Rourke, the former standout quarterback for Wildcats in the mid-1970s, said pushing his players mentally and physically has reaped plenty of rewards to this point.
On the physical side, O’Rourke said repetition will hopefully halt some of the missteps.
“I think it’s a learned thing right now and we have to break some bad habits we’ve had in the past,” he said. “We’ll get there and then we’ll forget again … and then we get there again.
“So it’s a constant thing from my standpoint and from the coaches standpoint that we have to stay on them. They’re teenagers and no matter how much you tell them, they tend to lose focus sometimes.”
Which leads O’Rourke and the BHS coach to keeping the players in tip-top shape mentally.
“I try every day to challenge my kids mentally, therefore when we get into the ballgame on Friday, when I come up with something, an idea, they know what I’m talking about and they execute it,” said O’Rourke.
In the end, the KISS principal applies, sort of. Some call it Keep It Simple Stupid. Not O’Rourke.
“I’ve kinda rephrased it … Keep It Simple and Smart,” he said. “We try to push their intelligence every day in practice so when we get to game night, the adjustments are a whole lot easier.”