Monday, August 18, 2008

Football merger kicks off - with SINGLE-WING

ST. NICHOLAS - The last time Jeremy Herman was coaching football, he was teaching his kids to beat Rapid River. Now, he's teaching his kids to be Rapid River.

Practice opened for fall sports teams around the area Monday, and introduced a new chapter in Rapid River football: a three-district co-operative, including Mid Peninsula and Big Bay de Noc.

Herman, who coached the Wolverines in their 46-28 Week 9 defeat Oct. 18 at Rapid River, is now an assistant under Rockets boss Steve Ostrenga. Mid Pen consolidated their football program with Rapid River for lack of players.

It is believed to be the first time one area program has been folded into another.

Herman was only head coach at Mid Pen for two years, so he can still maintain a relatively neutral perspective.

"For me, it's just football. And after a couple days, for the kids, it's just going to be football," he said.

About 45 jayvee and varsity players donned their helmets for the first day. It's not an army, but with the combined program, there are at least a few reinforcements.

"You don't have to worry about having to field a team," Herman said. "Last year, there were a couple of times where we were one or two injuries away from having to call up a team and say we couldn't go."

The timing of the merger was especially useful for Rapid River, whose gym and locker rooms are still under renovation. Therefore, the team will go through its initial paces at Mid Pen, including the first home game of the season against Pickford.

Ostrenga thanked Mid Pen for having an "excellent" field available. He said he hasn't noticed any issues with the merger.

"Football is football. I like to work with anybody. It's teaching. Teaching football," he said.

For the players, it's not quite the same. Mid Pen seniors Travis Depuydt and Earl Lancour suited up in their former rivals' colors Monday. Depuydt said, though the two groups have become familiar, the experience was "a little different."

"We've been friends with these guys for a while, but there's still that rivalry and competition. If we didn't know these guys like we do, it would be a lot worse," he said.

In theory, the football team could extend into three counties, spanning a distance from McFarland to Cooks, so players are carpooling quite a bit to absorb travel costs.

There are currently no players from the third district in the co-operative, Big Bay, but Ostrenga said they are still encouraged to play.

Everyone also has to work together to learn the Rapid River offense which, as their t-shirts say, "dabbles in the single wing." Depuydt said the switch hasn't been too tough.

"It's pretty much the same blocking scheme, just different names," he said.

Without a consolidation, Mid Pen would have been forced to start several freshmen to field a team, an unsafe situation. Depuydt said, given the situation, the current arrangement is a good fit.

"We like wearing the orange and white, but we'll get used to it. Playing football at Rapid is better than not playing at all."

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