ROCHELLE — With a short amount of time to prepare for the upcoming season, head coach Kyle Kissack and the Rochelle Hub varsity football team are doing everything they can to keep players fresh, both physically and mentally, as the program looks to bounce back this fall.
Rochelle finished 2-4 in the Interstate 8 Conference during the shortened spring season earlier this year. With no opportunity to participate in the postseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kissack utilized the six-game season to develop up-and-coming players and build around a talented senior class, which included three All-Conference First Teamers in Ben Harvey, Noah Messer and Ethan Albers. Rochelle will gear up for a full, nine-game season this fall.
“We were thankful that our seniors had one more opportunity to compete,” Kissack said. “Given how unique the spring season was, our kids did everything they could to be successful, even though we came up short in a handful of games… We’ve talked as a staff about keeping our kids engaged mentally, especially the kids who played two or three sports from January through June. We wanted our kids to have some time off and slow down a bit.”
The Hubs rushed for 10 touchdowns this spring, with Harvey scoring four touchdowns and totaling a team-high 442 rushing yards. Rochelle will return multiple ball carriers this fall including sophomore Garrett Gensler, who averaged 6.4 yards per carry and ran for 328 yards. Gensler was one of six players to be named All-Conference Honorable Mentions, joining seniors Gabe Neece, Crue Larsen, Grant Thompson, junior Braden Alfano and sophomore Jaden Cook.
“We were able to try some new things on offense,” Kissack said. “We had some younger kids on that side and we’re continuing to build on their experience during the summer. We had some kids step up and really shine. They complemented our senior class very well. Our younger kids earned significant playing time and that should help them throughout the summer.”
The Hubs recorded four interceptions and four sacks on defense, with two sacks coming from Alfano at the defensive end position. Rochelle will lose seven starters on defense including two linemen (Messer and Albers), three linebackers (Harvey, Neece and Spencer Warborg) and two defensive backs (Larsen and Thompson). Juniors Nate Burdin (cornerback), Tanner Lager (linebacker), Marco Castro (defensive tackle) and Alfano are all eligible to return.
“I was really proud of how we played defense this season,” Kissack said. “Our kids adjusted on the fly and we’re going to lose some key defensive players, but we’re going to work hard this summer and develop more kids on the defensive side of the ball. Our kids have put in a lot of effort. I thought our defensive output during the spring was very respectable.”
Junior Josh Lloyd tossed one touchdown pass in his first varsity season at the quarterback positon. Junior Ethan Wells headlines Rochelle’s returning players at the tight end position, while several offensive linemen including Cook and Castro, as well as juniors Brodie Nantz and Grant Messer, will be able to return when the Hubs kickoff the 2021-22 season this fall.