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Multiple media video cameras rolled, but nary a football on Stevenson's first official practice.
No Patriot dropped a pass or fumbled during non-contact drills because new IHSA rules didn't allow for footballs to be used for the opening walk-through. Helmets and pads weren't allowed until days later.
You've heard of "air" guitar. This was "air" football.
It didn't exactly rock.
"It's taking a little time to adjust being out here without a ball and stuff," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "It just seems a little odd, but those are the rules, and we follow the rules."
Rest assured, the Patriots will have a ball this season. Hence, the heightened media coverage on Day 1 of practice.
They have made the state playoffs every year since 1989 — a string of 24 straight postseason appearances — and expectations are particularly high this season. The Patriots boast a pair of Division I commits in safety/wide receiver Matt Morrissey (Michigan State) and offensive tackle Zach Novoselsky, as well as a talented junior class that boasts quarterback Willie Bourbon, linemen Nick Dillon and Patrick O'Connell and wide receiver Cameron Green. Stevenson earned a share of the North Suburban Conference Lake Division last season.
"We're just really excited to put in our new systems and new plays and see how it unfolds," said McNamara, whose team visits Kenosha Indian Trails in its Friday night season opener. "We're play by play, day by day."
As the team's first-year starting QB last season, Bourbon (6-1, 190) threw for a school-record 2,400 yards — including a school-record 343 in one game — and 17 touchdowns. He also rushed for 401 yards and 5 scores. He gives the run game a boost since he's as athletic as they come at his position.
"The bigger the game, the more he'll run," McNamara said.
New starters behind Bourbon could include junior running backs Tim Vestuto, Jack Joseph (5-10, 19) and Juwann Anderson (6-0, 180). They will be key, as will a line that returns only the supersized Novoselsky (6-5, 285).
"One of our main focuses is, we got to be able to run the ball," McNamara said. "We've got athletes all over the place, but in order for our whole offense to go we have to run the ball. We have to establish the run and keep defenses off-balance, because if you become just a pass team, guys are flying out and just jumping in."
Ty Dongoski (5-10, 210), Patrick Austin (6-0, 205), Henry Sise (6-4, 245), Jon Zanillo (6-2, 210) and Corey Edidin (6-0, 240) are in competition for the other starting spots on the O-line.
"The big hole is our O-line," McNamara said.
If the line can keep Bourbon upright, Green (6-3, 190), Morrissey (6-3, 195) and tight end Jordan Atkins (6-2, 190) should get ample catches. Both Green and Morrissey are playmakers. Green snatched 31 balls (16.7 yards per catch), including 6 TDs, last season, while Morrissey had 33 receptions (17.1 yards per catch) and 5 TDs. The fathers of Green (Mike), Morrissey (Jim) and Atkins (Renwick) all played in the NFL. Green can also kick, punt, returns kicks and play defensive back.
The defense looks stout up front with O'Connell (6-3, 230) and Dillon (6-2, 265). O'Connell was leading the Patriots in tackles through eight weeks last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Dillon's 65 tackles included 17 for loss. Dillon, who was often double-teamed, also started on varsity as a freshman. Junior newcomer Blake Drazner (5-9, 190) also figures to be an impact player up front.
Middle linebacker Jason Vavrik (6-2, 225) is another key on defense. He also suffered a season-ending injury last year, as he broke his foot midway through the season. Josh Junker (5-11, 175) and Itai Gerchikov (5-11, 195) also played plenty at linebacker last season. The linebacking crew also includes versatile Jimmy Marchese (6-1, 190) and Ryan Mass (5-9, 175). Morrissey anchors the secondary. The competition at cornerback includes Sam Oriatti (5-10, 175), Joey Olker (6-1, 180) and Kevin Pearson (5-11, 175).
Talent alone, however, won't allow the Patriots to cruise through the regular season and make a deep playoff run. Zion-Benton gave them a scare in Week 9 last season, before the Patriots prevailed 28-14.
"We look at it as there are no cupcakes," McNamara said. "You got to play every week. There are no weeks off."