To say the Morris football team put the pedal to the medal when it came to running the ball last year is an understatement.
In fact, the Redskins put in a Morris record-breaking year rushing the pigskin. By the end of the year, the locals had accumulated 3,546 yards in 543 carries (both records) and hit pay dirt 50 times.
Consider that the 2005 state champion Morris team ran the ball 508 times for 4,306 yards and 53 scores, and perspective on the historic season becomes even more clear.
“That’s something I don’t think we’re going to be able to do every year,” Morris coach Alan Thorson said.
“That was a great accomplishment. Obviously each group wants to be better than the last, but those are some big shoes to fill.”
However, gone from last year’s team are Reese Sobol, Jeff Perry, Collin Grogan and Zach Cinnamon, who combined for 3,356 of those yards.
“We have a lot of guys at the varsity level that are, obviously, unproven,” Thorson said, “but we’ve seen a lot of good things from them so far over the summer.
“Deano Meucci got a lot of varsity carries and runs the ball well and Austin Laurie even scored a touchdown in one of the playoff games. So he got some carries at fullback.”
Meucci had 42 carries for 130 yards last year and Laurie 10 for 39 and a score. Other than that, only Tristan Layne (4 carries, 77 yards and a score), Ethan Grogan (12 carries, 48 yards and a score) and quarterback Matt Darlington (2 carries, 9 yards) are the non-seniors from last year’s team that got carries.
That has left the Morris staff giving a close look to many runners at its padded camp this week.
“We’ve had a lot of guys step up. Guys like Jake Walker. He was the main back on the sophomores last year. We feel that we can put him at tailback or slot. He’s a lot like Jake Ruettiger,” Thorson said.
“Tristan Layne is a senior who is running the ball well. Robbie Meucci is another who has stepped up and one of the biggest surprises is Matt Feiden. He missed all of last year with an injury but he is showing to be a physical runner. One of those power backs that we like having.”
Morris offensive coordinator Bill Lauer likes the diversity of running styles he’s seen so far this summer.
“We’ve got some guys who we feel we can count on. Guys like Jake Walker and Austin Laurie,” he said. “Every one of these guys bring something different to the table. We’ve got guys who can run you over and we have guys who can run zone-reads for us. We’re going to have a big group of running backs who are going to get carries for us this year.”
“We’re going to be quick,” Walker said. “The backs also know how to hit the holes and hit them hard.”
Lauer said that two key elements to a successful running game were introduced on Monday when camp opened.
“We haven’t seen the linemen all summer long. That is big in terms of getting the timing down with all of the counters and traps with pulling guards. The size of our linemen alone is huge. Especially from last year. We didn’t have a 300-pounder last year but this year we have some big boys. That will effect the aiming point up to two or three feet to the left or the right, depending on what side we are going to.”
“I think we’re all gelling pretty good with the linemen,” Dean Meucci said.
Thorson said that the team has been impressing the importance of communication between the backs and the line.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on the inside runs so that the backs and the line can used to working together. For the backs, it’s about working on their vision and finding the holes,” he said. “The progression we are seeing is really where we want it to be. The guys have stepped up and are recognizing where we want the plays going. The running backs have not only done a good job of running the ball, but of blocking, too.”
“We’re definitely trying to find guys who are good at the zone reads,” Lauer said. “A guy who, when the linemen are blocking, can hit a hole and get up field.”
Whether or not Morris will try to line up the ball and run to another record-breaking rushing season, or will try to spread the field and move the ball in another manner, is not the most important thing right now.
“Right now to this point, we’ve had a few bumps and bruises, but overall the kids have done a good job,” Thorson said.
“Right away they came out ready to hit each other and they did. It was like a typical Morris camp. The biggest point of the camp is to get better. Get better at tacking on defense and blocking on offense. So far, we’re happy with what we’ve seen.”