Off a uncharacteristic 3-7 season, Sidney Lehman looks forward to a new conference affiliation and a return to good football fortunes in 2012 through fundamentals. The odds may not be in their favor. The man who leads them most assuredly is!
I’ve known Dick Roll since the day he arrived at Lehman nearly a decade ago. Then fresh off a long and oft-successful tenure at Plymouth High School, in Richland County, he was looking for football renewal…a fresh start.
“I still wanted to be around the kids and football,” he said in his introductory press conference. “I still think there’s some things I can teach kids about the game of football.”
That was then, and he’s done nothing since but rebuild…a couple of times…teach the game and maintain the Cavaliers’ impressive legacy of winning football, often against some mountainous odds.
Dick Roll’s won 70% of his games since 2005, he’s led Lehman to two Division VI state semi-final appearances, and prepares now for the 2012 season by leading the program into a new league affiliation with the Northwest Central Athletic Conference.
“We’re excited about it,” he said Monday. “It’s new schools and better competition in football, but we’re going in as full members which means we’ll compete in all sports. It’s a great opportunity for our kids and we’re very appreciative of this opportunity. You know me, I’m a loyal guy, and I’m going to be very positive about it. We’ll be young, and we’re playing teams like Waynesfield Goshen, Marion Catholic and Lima Perry, but we’re anxious to get started.”
Both Lehman and Ft. Loramie are making the move to the NCAC, leaving the Metro Buckeye Conference after three-year football affiliations. The good news beyond the good news of a new beginning? New challenges are always good. But old backyard rivalries maintained are even better.
Dick Roll is 60-something and easy to spot…even easier to like. His hair is thinning, and his familiar slumping gait around the practice field is unmistakable. Arms folded, he stands like a headstone, his focused gaze missing little, if anything. From experience he anticipates mistakes before they happen. Yet, his enthusiasm and patience for teaching the game remains unchanged from year to year. Good teams, bad teams, old teams, young teams…they all get the benefit of his passion to coach and compete.
While he’ll admit that there’s little glamorous about him, those who know him will tell you that no one’s better at building a football team from the inside out. Rarely blessed with overwhelming talent over his years, many appreciate him most for his consistency…and for his ability resurrect a a good hand from a bad draw. Faced with decreased numbers and declining enrollment last year, Roll nonetheless kept the Lehman Cavaliers competitive, even with a youthful roster and a 3-7 record.
“We were young. And I don’t like to play a freshman quarterback. It’s not fair to the kid, but that’s what we had to do some last year. We won three, we ‘could’ have won five, but we learned.
“The biggest thing, the kids learned a hard lesson last year…that you have to work in the offseason if you’re going to be successful. That’s nothing we haven’t told them before, but I think they figured it out. That’s the difference we’re looking for this year. We have kids who are older, stronger, and a year more mature.”
While never flashy, he nonetheless admits that Lehman football will have a different look in 2012 to take advantage of some good looking “skill” players.
“I think we’ll be able to do a few things,” says Roll with a smile. “We’ll have competition at quarterback between a sophomore and a senior, we’ll have some competition at running back between another sophomore and a senior, and we’ll see where that takes us. We do have some athletes, but I still think you build from the inside out.”
What that means is Roll and the Cavaliers will rely on what he points to as seven capable interior line candidates…senior Nick Cummins (a Dayton Fox 45/NBC 22 pre-season Top 22 selection), Michael Jacobs, Ben and Brad Montgomery, Quentin Malone, “Red” Skelton and Quinn Monnin…to build around. Outside of that the only sure thing for 2012 he points to is bus driver Steve Coburn, a fixture for Lehman football since Roll’s first day on the job.
“Those guys have all come a long way since last year. They’re athletic, and they’re versatile,” assures Roll of his line corps. “The game is played up front and those seven give us something pretty good to start with.”
It’s a program short on senior leadership. Cummins, Jacobs, Dan Davis and rushing leader Andrew Gilardi represent significant experience from that group that “learned” last year. But is that enough to improve on last year’s mark? In total, ten return…eight are letter winners.
What experience they have aside, it’s a program still short on numbers. The Cavaliers will scratch to dress as many as 34 on game nights this fall. An obstacle, yes, but one that bodes a brighter horizon.
“We have a really short freshman class, just five kids,” says Roll. “That’s devastating, but we only had five kids who played football last year in junior high. But that’s part of being a small school because every now and then you’re going to have a group like that come through…the ups and the downs of high school football. The good news is there’s 34 playing in our 7th and 8th grade groups, so soon we’ll be back on track.”
Good news, bad news, whatever…Lehman’s road will not be easy in 2012, beginning with Anna on opening night, and then the likes of the NCAC…among them, Riverside, Marion Catholic, Lima Perry, Ft. Loramie, Lehman, Waynesfield Goshen, Ridgemont, Fairbanks, Temple Christian and Upper Scioto Valley.
“It’s going to mean better football, and that’s what you want for your kids,” he adds. “There’s two or three long bus trips to make, but there always are. We’re going to start out tough with Anna and we’re trying to fill the date we lost with Troy Christian. But I’m excited…we’re all excited to get started.”
Which is what he’s said from day one at Lehman. Dick Roll’s always excited…always optimistic…even with a new league.
Why should 2012 be any different?