Burlington Central hopes to build on strong 2016 finish
There's guaranteed to be at least one thing new about this year's Burlington Central football teams.
The Rockets have gone to white helmets, a switch from their traditional blue. A Rocket adorns the right side and the number 66 on the left, signifying the 66th season of Burlington Central football.
That's a tradition second-year coach Brian Melvin brought with him from East Aurora. He's hoping the helmets aren't the only thing that changes for the Rockets as they try to improve on a 3-6 record.
"When I became head coach I knew I've always wanted to have white," Melvin said. "I'm really excited. I thank the administration for allowing me to do it. It's a big change."
More big changes are coming for Burlington Central in the near future as the Rockets' time in the Kishwaukee River Conference is limited. Specifically, they have two seasons left, and their new home could come with a big step up in competition in a conference such as the Fox Valley.
Melvin said that only makes this year more important.
"We're trying to build a program," Melvin said. "It's a very important year for us, the next two years. If we go to the Fox Valley, we have to have success in these next two years to even have a chance of being successful in the Fox Valley. I take it to Lake Park. Remember when Lake Park went to the DVC? They just couldn't compete."
To have a better year, Burlington Central needs to build on a strong finish to the 2016 season when the Rockets went 3-1 to close the season. That run coincided with lefty Johnny DiCostanzo taking over at quarterback.
DiCostanzo, now a junior, returns to lead an otherwise inexperienced squad relying heavily on a junior class that went 8-1 as sophomores.
"Johnny, once he got his feet wet, we won 3 of last 4 games," Melvin said. "Johnny is definitely a dual-threat quarterback. He has a different spin on the ball."
While Melvin is encouraged by his juniors, he knows the transition to varsity could have some bumps.
"We will see if they can step up," Melvin said. "They won conference last year as sophomores, but this is not sophomore football. We have a lot of weapons but it's can they transfer that from the sophomore game to the varsity game. We'll be an OK team or we can be a good team or we can be just like last year. I can't answer that right now because we are so young. There's a lot of unanswered questions out there."
Among the holes the Rockets need to fill is their backfield where they graduated their top three rushers. Matt Ganziano, Nick Termini, Nate Figurski and Ryan Doubek will all get carries.
When DiCostanzo looks to throw, he'll be eying Michael Kalusa, Dejsani Beamon, Kyle Moring and tight end Jarret VanAcker.
Beamon, who moved in last year from Texas, will be one player to watch.
"Dejsani is unreal, nobody knows about him, he may be the best athlete I've coached in my life," said Melvin, adding Beamon will play at cornerback, one of several two-way players he's counting on.
"We are a 5A school with 50 football players. For us to be successful we have to have the best kids on the field all the time. Last year we tried to 2-platoon."
All-conference returnee Ryan Ledebuhr and Vince O'Neal help anchor the line where the Rockets also are counting on Julian Capaci, Payton Mustard, Joe Cesaroni and Sam Esterly.
Doubek is a leader on defense at linebacker, and defensive end Sam Dossey and cornerback Layn Reynolds join several of the two-way players to try to continue the momentum of holding their final four opponents last year to a combined 30 points.
Doubek will punt, and Melvin said both junior Colton Wallace and sophomore soccer player Andrew Solomon have been booting 45-yard field goals in practice.
"We've moved a lot of pieces," Melvin said. "We're going to be young. We're rebuilding. We're in year 2 of rebuilding. I can already see this summer went smoother than last. The first five weeks of last year weren't fun, but once they figured it out, we had a lot of fun. And the kids had a great summer."