HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Rouse staying confident about push towards the playoffs

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Every program has to adapt - Rouse is no different.

A growing school district and a smaller student enrollment mean players are going to be stretched thin and maybe play on both sides of the ball. But that doesn't change the end goal for the football team.

"We want to battle for one of the playoff spots if not a district championship," head coach Josh Mann said. "The challenge is everybody trying to carry their weight. If you went through the fall and spring, we were probably defensively heavy on talent. They're going to have to share that talent on the offensive side. We're going to lean on that experience and grit."

Theist two seasons have been slanting downwards for the Raiders, who finished next to last in District 11-5A Division I last season a year after speaking into the playoffs and stumping to Magnolia West in the first round.

This Rouse squad will once again revolve around the defensive side of the ball. They had the second-best regular-season defense of any team in District 11-5A DI, allowing 28.3 points per game in the regular season.

"We have a great team," senior linebacker Lane Bresnehen said. "A lot of us were here sophomore year and we've been playing together for a long time. We know how to play together and how to pick each other up. We know how far to push each other without getting angry."

The lessons learned from that sophomore season - when the Raiders won three of their final four games to make the playoffs and nearly upset Magnolia West - are incredibly valuable to this year's group.

"I want to get back to that," senior Ugonnamdi Osemene said. "The energy was really good. We want to bring that back. It's the way we operate. We have a lot of special plays in there and we have a lot of people doing a lot of cool stuff with people moving around."

Expect a lot of Rouse players to play both ways this season.

Osemene will be a defensive back as usual with the additional responsibility of playing som running back - a position that he hasn't played since he was in pee wee football. Isaiah Cash was a lights-out defender before getting hurt last season and will contribute on both sides of the ball.

The biggest thing about this senior group is how they've stayed hungry.

"They've seen what it feels like to make the playoffs," Mann said. "They hate losing and they were frustrated with that last year. There were some games that we felt like got away. We have to do a better job getting our defense off the field. They want to win and leave a mark."

Some players, like Riley Grady, made the full-time move to the defensive side of the ball.

"I had to earn my spot there," Grady said. "The coaches knew I could play there. It's what I love to play. I feel like our defense is going to be something to talk about in the district. With the group of players we have, I feel like we can be really good."

Offensively, it starts up front for Rouse.

Typically, the Raiders have had a few big players on the offensive and defensive lines. That size is a little less this year, but it doesn't mean they can't run and throw as they have in the past.

Senior Jack Wingard was the backup to Ethan Moore at quarterback the last few seasons, and Mann said he's competing with a couple other younger guys for the starting job under center for the Raiders this season.

"The core of the guys coming out of spring, there's a nucleus there that I believe can be a productive group," Mann said.

Much of the success Rouse expects to have this season starts with the senior group. And the Raiders have made to the postseason every other year for the past few seasons.

This group wants to be the one that bounces back and leaves their mark.

"I know the future is bright," Bresnehen said. "We have a good group coming up and the class behind that. Every senior a class above me did a really good job of leading the younger guys. They've all thought us some things."

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