ROCHELLE — The Rochelle varsity football team has opened its season against the Corliss Trojans for nearly two decades, but when the Hubs take the field for their first game of the year this fall, there will be another opponent standing on the other side of the ball.
Rochelle’s journey to its third consecutive postseason appearance will begin nearly six hours away from home. The Hubs will travel and play Marion High School for their season-opener on Saturday, Aug. 25 before returning home and hosting Johnsburg High School on Friday, Aug. 31.
Five of Rochelle’s nine opponents including Marion and Johnsburg qualified for the playoffs in 2017, and Hubs head coach Kyle Kissack understands his team has zero off weeks this year.
“There’s no question that our schedule is tough,” Kissack said. “We play in one of the toughest conference in Class 4A or Class 5A in the northern part of the state… The most important week of the season is the one starting on Monday and we’ll continue to move forward after that.”
Rochelle’s season officially began with full practices on Monday. The Hubs have been working hard throughout the spring and the summer gearing up for the upcoming season, participating in the school’s Hub Power weightlifting and conditioning program while attending offseason summer camps.
“We certainly have a solid foundation with the work we’ve put in over the summer,” Kissack said. “It’s time to make some significant progress before the first week of the season and we looked forward to doing that on Monday. I can’t say enough about the group of seniors we have… We’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach them.”
Northern Illinois Big 12 All-Conference tackle Will Jandak highlights a slew of returning linemen on both sides of the football this year. Junior Charlie Jandak has moved inside from tight end to guard, while senior James Hart has taken reps at center. Seniors Luis Silva, Nick Henson and Edwin Vega are also players who could contribute on both lines this fall.
“We have some really talented kids on both sides of the ball up front,” Kissack said. “They’re very intelligent and they allow us to do some different things. We just have to keep everybody healthy and I think, more than anything, we have to find ways to be creative and keep our kids game-ready.”
Seniors Noah Knight, Eddie Villalobos and Brandon Johnson are all returning in the backfield for the Hubs, and senior quarterback Andrew Johnson will take the snaps under center after serving a backup role over the last two seasons. Johnson, Villalobos and Knight were key contributors to a sophomore team that won the NIB-12 Conference two years ago under coach Kissack.
“They’re very versatile kids and our backs are familiar with all three running positions,” Kissack said. “It allows for flexibility which I think we’ll utilize. We had a quarterback competition over the offseason and Andrew did a nice job over the spring and in the summer. He’s earned that right.”
Brandon Johnson and Villalobos will also man Rochelle’s linebacking core alongside returning seniors Greg Ricketts and Larry Beck. Knight and senior Louie Mancinas have taken reps at the cornerback positions, while sophomore Ben Harvey has been working out at the safety position. Villalobos (kicking) and Johnson (punting) will likely take on special teams duties as well.
“Our linebackers and defensive backs are very aggressive and they’re very intelligent kids,” Kissack said. “We see so many different offensive sets from the first week to the last… The ability to be aggressive and intelligent about those sets are things that will serve us well.”