They graduated their quarterback and some talented skill position players, but the new crop of Lehmanite replacements has Dick Roll in a familiar frame of mind, and opposing coaches taking notice.
Some things never change.
At Arcanum’s seven-on-seven passing scrimmage last week Lehman coach Dick Roll strolled around the field with his head down, dressed in shorts and a muscle shirt, a floppy hat that could have come from the yard sale next door pulled down over is face.
“My Gilligan’s Island hat,” he deadpanned.
His assistant coaches, Bill Zimmerman in particular, were busied with the issues of teaching the passing game to a fresh group of fuzzy-faced youngsters decked out in the latest Under Armour cleats and garb. They looked the part. Summer football is a place for stylin’, after all.
Early on routes were confused, passes thrown late and behind. “Lazy route,” barked Zimmerman after one particular sophomoric effort.” Roll never changed his expression or demeanor. Once – only once – he did take off his hat to mop his forehead, a concession to the July heat and frustration of the process.
By their second rotation, against a different opponent, with a different quarterback, they were noticeably more coherent, confident, even a little cocky as junior Cam Lee made a leaping catch over double coverage for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone. Roll noticed, cocked an eyebrow. That was his only reaction.
By the end of the morning, and the scrimmage, things had begun to sort themselves out, which is why you go through these things – why Rolls shows up in a muscle shirt, deck shoes, and a Gilligan hat, and takes it all in with smile and a shrug.
“It’s early, but we have some athletes.” That was the Dick Roll sound bite for the day. Nothing much to say because he’s seen all this, at this stage, before.
Yes, he has seen it all before in his ten years at Lehman, since taking over for Paul Neves a decade ago amidst the chaos of losing seasons and declining numbers. Administration was looking for a fresh start, and turned to Roll and an old solution from Versailles football roots, honed by 20 years of coaching and hard-earned wins at Plymouth High school, in Richland County…the Mansfield area. Since, Roll has given the school, and Cavalier Nation, what it was looking for.
He’s averaged just under eight wins a seasons in his ten years at Lehman, with frequent playoff appearances, and the one familiar and constant anvil that seems to hang around his neck. He’s usually out-manned. Fighting to keep at least forty in uniform over the years, Roll’s become accustomed to teaching them up to competitive credibility by their senior season, only to see them move on through graduation.
As if anticipating my question last week, he grinned and asked, “Are you still around?” Some things never change, including Dick Roll.
“We’ve got some good kids, and some good athletes here,” he finally conceded. “I like some of our size. Now we just have to try and get them in the right places. Then we’ll see what happens.”
Athletes? Senior running back Jake Earhart returns in the tradition of hard-running Cavalier backs from the past, Dan Jacob and Kaleb Goins. Junior Owen Smith was an impact player on both sides of the ball a year ago, despite diminutive size.
Junior Michael Bunker came back this year at 6’3″ and 220 pounds, imploring offensive coordinator Zimmerman to give him a look as a tight end, or at wide receiver. 6’3″ and 220 pounds, that is.
“What not?” smiled Zimmerman after Bunker made an impressive showing in Thursday’s scrimmage. “He’s 6’3″ and 220 pounds.”
Aforementioned Cam Lee is another underclassman with size (6’3″, 200 lbs.) who is one of three impressive candidates at quarterback, vying to replace the graduated Stephen Monnin. But Lee also shined Thursday with his ability to catch the ball, ranging above smaller defenders, corners and safeties, downfield.
And they’re going to throw it, even to Earhart, new to that particular task, as was evident with plays executed out of the backfield.
But it was July, with no pads, and no hitting…no opponent to prove a physical roadblock to the exuberance at the expense of first-year program, Tri-Village, or Dixie. Roll is faced with a familiar task between now and the August 26 debut against state champion Ft. Recovery. He has to get an offensive line together, a cohesive team mentality of hit and be hit, and…the Cavaliers have to stay healthy.
And, say all this happens…you’d better beat them early. In Roll’s tenure at Lehman they’ve proven to be one of the worst teams out of the gate, and one of the best come the cooler nights of late September and October. When they put it all together they’re formidable. And if you’re taking them for granted now, they will be again.
They start out with the tough task of Recovery and Minster, a pair of MAC non-cons, before settling into a less-threatening schedule of Graham, Upper Scioto, Riverside, and Lima Perry leading up to the always-anticipated game with Ft. Loramie on October 14.
Seriously, you just read the sum total of words from Dick Roll in our meeting last week…a fashion statement, an observation as to my perseverance, and a concession to the obvious – that the 2016 have three good candidates for quarterback, athleticism at the skill positions, size, and a crafty old coach very adept at putting it all together. Other than that he was pretty mum, as in other years when some were prone to take him (them) lightly.
So a word to the wise (or anyone who’s seen them play before)…don’t turn your back on Lehman!