Football: Seven-win season concludes with third straight playoff trip

Juniors Grant Gensler (left) and Ryan Senne (right) are two of many starters eligible to return in 2024 for the Rochelle Hub varsity football team. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Several two-way starters eligible to return in 2024

ROCHELLE — A historic conference championship and a third consecutive trip to the IHSA Playoffs highlighted the 2023 season for the Rochelle Hub varsity football team. With a small senior class set to depart and a large chunk of starters eligible to return next season, Rochelle’s football program will have an opportunity to achieve immediate success in the near future.

The Hubs finished with a 7-3 overall record and a 6-0 record in the Interstate 8/Kishwaukee River Conference Blue Division this season. Rochelle defeated perennial state powerhouse Richmond-Burton to clinch its first conference championship since 2004. The Hubs also locked down wins over Woodstock, Johnsburg, Harvard, Marengo, Sandwich and Plano this fall. The 2023 season concluded with a first-round loss to Wheaton St. Francis in the IHSA 5A Playoffs.

“Every season creates opportunities for us to grow,” Kissack said. “We didn’t take anything for granted and playing the schedule we played, we found ways to stay present in the moment and grow through those moments. We had some tough losses during the season, but our kids found ways to respond and they won a conference championship. I’m proud of our kids and how we came together as a group. Our seniors set the tone for us and I’m proud of how we played.”

Rochelle averaged 31.6 per game on offense, where the Hubs rushed for 2,923 yards and 6.7 yards per carry. Junior quarterback Carson Lewis threw for 634 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions during his first season as the varsity starter. Senior offensive lineman Landon Mickley headlines a small cast of starters who will depart from the roster after the 2023 season. Senior tight end Brock Metzger and wide receiver Tommy Tourdot will also depart.

“The development of our seniors is something to be admired,” Kissack said. “Landon started for us as a sophomore and he really grew into himself and his personality. He worked his way into becoming a really good football player. Brock was a solid leader for us and over the course of his three sports, he’s had opportunities to be a leader in each of those sports. Tommy’s a kid who’s a competitor at heart and he’s a success story for anybody in the Rochelle community.”

The Rochelle defense limited opponents to 13.2 points per game while recording shutouts on four different occasions. Senior linebacker Brock Metzger led the defense with 58 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble. Senior cornerback Tommy Tourdot snagged a team-leading four interceptions and three pass breakups while adding 21 tackles. 

“We worked through a new defensive scheme and we were about as successful as we could’ve been with the amount of time and energy we invested with the kids,” Kissack said. “We had as many of our athletes on the field as we could and I thought our inside-five kids did a tremendous job against the run. Those three linemen and two inside linebackers allowed us to move some athletes around in space behind them. Our defensive scheme was what we hoped it would be.”

Eight offensive starters are eligible to return in 2024. Those starters include junior offensive linemen Alex Pemberton, Jack Carmichael, Colton Czekala and Kaiden Morris along with tight end Jack Pavlak. Junior tailback Grant Gensler rushed for 1,085 yards and scored 12 rushing touchdowns, while freshman wingback Dylan Manning had 726 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Sophomore fullback Roman Villalobos ran for 546 yards and six touchdowns.

Nine defensive starters are eligible to return next fall. Among those starters are several linemen including juniors Ryan Senne, Kaiden Morris, Alex Pemberton and Colton Czekala. Junior linebackers Ethan Goodwin (29 tackles and one interception) and Brandyn Metzger (37 tackles and one fumble recovery) are eligible to return along with sophomore linebacker Brode Metzger (33 tackles and one fumble recovery). Junior defensive backs Xavier Villalobos (16 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions), Elijah Harley (20 tackles) and Grant Gensler (39 tackles and one interception) could all return for the Hubs next season.

“We’ll have a number of three-year starters coming back,” Kissack said. “Whether it’s Kaiden, Grant, Jack, Xavier… Those kids will need to step up and embrace the idea that it’s going to be their program. Where we go from here will be dependent upon how they lead the group that’s coming with them. Next year’s team will be a new team and how our kids grow and lead in the school community… I’m looking forward to seeing how far they can take this group.”