2018 Gridiron: Quincy Notre Dame Raiders
Colors: Navy blue, Vegas gold and white
Total Returning Lettermen: 28
2017 Overall Record: 5-5
Head Coach: Jack Cornell
Years at School: 1
Record at School: 0-0
Overall Record: 0-0
JACK’S BACK: RAIDERS USHER IN A NEW FOOTBALL ERA
THE LINE OF SUCCESSION: After 26 seasons stalking the sidelines at Tenth and Jackson, Bill Connell’s coaching watch has ended; easily the biggest storyline of the off-season. The Dean of Tri-State High School Football Skippers took the occasion of his son Jackson’s graduation and looming college football career to get step off the carousel and hand Raider Football over to a hand-chosen successor. And he just happens to be alumni. QND introduced Jack Cornell, a standout former Raider and University of Illinois Offensive Tackle and Super Bowl Ring winner as part of the Baltimore Ravens Taxi Squad, on March 13th as Connell’s successor. Jack had previously served coaching apprenticeships on Connell’s staff working with the Offensive Line, as well as at both Quincy University and Culver Stockton before coming “home” to accept what he considers his “dream job.” It comes attached with soaring standards for consistent excellence as this next incarnation of Raider attempts to deliver the 26th playoff appearance in program history in 2018. To that mission, Cornell himself brings resonate enthusiasm, a strong working knowledge of the kids who already populate the program, and unflinching expectations of his own.
THE STATE OF RAIDER NATION: Jack Cornell’s tenure begins with football participation in the midst of a three year ebb at QND; so I don’t think it’s unfair to see this season, writ large, as both challenge and opportunity. This new Raider Staff has a chance to inject new energy into the mix; exciting the grass roots of the program to the greater goal of enticing more kids back into the football fold (and away from either the video game joystick and /or endless torrent of concussion-related bad press.) Some positive early gridiron returns this Fall would go a long way in turning that tide. To that end, the Raiders will have 28 returning letter winners and a dozen starters back from a 2018 playoff qualifying crew with which to try and broaden the culture and ignite greater interest. In a perfect world, Jack Cornell would have more total bodies with which to do so here at Point A. By the same token, this returning QND roster is not without significant positional outlier strengths that help could spur immediate success.
A WILEY COMPETITOR: In route to scoring nearly 34 points per contest last Fall, the Raiders displayed considerable balance. In fact, twenty of the teams 45 total touchdowns came through the air. While new Offensive Coordinator Bob Sheffield is expected to put his own unique spin on things, the root message here is that the accentuation of the passing game is here to stay at 10th and Jackson. Granted, QND will be replacing Quarterback Nick Wellman, as well as one of the most talented and prolific Wide Receivers in the history of the school in Reed Hyer. Sophomore Ike Wiley comes out of the summer session as the heir apparent at QB; a 5’9” 165 pounder who will benefit from a demonstrably bankable run game and a still potent stable of Wide Receivers and Tight Ends. Senior Nathan Obert, a gifted 6’4” 170 pounder with the mindset to catch everything in his general vicinity, and speedy Sophomore Grant Hyer both got ample run as starting receivers last season. There’s traction to the rumor that explosive Running Back Johnny Ohnemus will be utilized in certain sets in a Slot Receiver type role as well. QND has also built up a nice cache of good looking Tight End prospects in Senior Clayton Dyer (6’3” 170lbs) Junior Zach Becker (6’ 190lbs) and rising Sophomore Jack Marth (6’ 200lbs) QND’s options here are limited only by the limits it sets on its own play-calling creativity because even on a smaller roster, there are viable weapons aplenty.
BUILDING BLOCKS: It feels strangely appropriate the Jack Cornell’s first Raider team could boast a pair of tentpole Offensive Linemen to anchor the Front Wall. Senior Jonny Bottorff and Junior Bo Paxton both have the look of future college football players; and actually have profiled as such since early in their high school careers. Bottorff is a 6’4” 285 pounder, who as of this writing holds a host of Division Two offers, is a relentless worker with feet nimble enough to play Power Forward on the hardwoods. Watch him in isolation and it’s quickly evident that Jonny has not only been coached right; but that he has the mindset of obsessively working to perfect his fundamentals. His level of “get it” is super high and his desire to be great makes him a really easy kid to root for in that pursuit. He’s incredibly intelligent, gets off the football with the intent of punishing someone on every single play, and delivers incredible pop with his hands. But the thing that impresses me the most about Bottorff is just how hard he goes right up until the whistle.. It's not just about the block with this kid. It’s about him letting you know just how thoroughly and dominantly you’ve been blocked. When you find a truly nice kid with this kind of mean streak on the football field, that’s a godsend. And the move from Tackle to Center should serve him, and the line itself, very well indeed. Bo Paxton, a mild-mannered Eagle Scout away from the field, has shown some of that same finishing flourish dating back to his Freshman year. He’s a 6’4’ 270 pounder with long arms and broad shoulders who has shown some of the better pass blocking chops of any recent QND linemen, as he is super quick at getting his hands into a defender. Bottom line, Coach Cornell has two talented canvases here on which to work his blocking magic. More challengingly, though, Jack has to connect the dots between his tackles to fuel the “River Run” Offense he hopes to build. Juniors Brendan Mass, Drew Genenbacher, and Ian Tyrpin as well as Sophomores Tyler Bertram and Sam Hea could all vie for the remaining vacancies.
CRASH INTO THEE: QND returns three of the prominent rushing weapons that helped the Raiders average nearly six yards per carry last Fall. Senior Dalton Venvertloh figures to serve as the tip of the spear. He’s a 5’9” 170 pound slasher who runs with purpose, reads the field as it opens up to him, and makes small, measured adjustments to create daylight. Despite battling injury issues as a Junior, Venvertloh posted a team high eight rushing touchdowns, while also amassing 663 rushing yards on 98 totes. He’s got a nifty talent for crossing up tacklers, even in the tightest of corners, and a knack for maximizing yardage on the back end of a seemingly dead play. QND is better with Dalton on the field, so keeping him upright this Fall is an imperative. Simon Holtschlag will provide cover in that department. The 5’11” 180 pound Senior is probably better known for his feisty play at Linebacker but that same relentless approach profiles nicely here at Fullback; giving the Raiders a jarring set up punch to Venvertloh. Simon had 30 carries last Fall for 122 yards and a pair of touchdowns; and with Jackson Connell’s graduation, likely sees his role here expand. He’s a tough customer with zero fear on a Football Field, which adds a little edge to the equation. The X-factor here is Johnny Ohnemus, who could end up playing as many as three different positions in Bob Sheffield’s offensive architecture. The Raiders are going to try and create space for Ohnemus, a pulse-quickening talent. See also his six carry, 126 yard signature piece effort against Macomb. He’s a fun weapon and the Raiders are endeavoring to do some really fun things with him.
SIMONIZED: Coordinator Ben Morrison is charged with retooling a Raider Defense that experienced wild performance swings in 2017; including that troubling 45 point shellacking against Highland in the Playoff opener. On balance, the Raider Defense was kind of a weird animal. It gave up nearly 25 points per game, even while pitching a pair of shutouts. It also turned opponents over to the tune of a +11 final rating, which is absurdly good opportunism (and yes, football security on Offense as well) There is some clear finessing to be done here to enhance and cater to the better strengths of this group. To that end, QND must replace six starters, including All State Linebacker Jackson Connell. All things considered, it is that middle tier of the Raiders 4-4 scheme that looms as its strongest asset. Both Dalton Venvertloh and Simon Holtschlag return their and they bring a dimension of quickness and frenetic energy that could help invigorate the entire unit as a whole. Holtschlag has a real “it” factor to him. He gets into the backfield with great frequency and has the chase down skills of a hungry Jaguar. Simon delivered 58 total tackles a year ago, with seven stops for loss, 2 quarterback sacks, and a pair of fumble recoveries. Venvertloh is that kid whose range is such that you just can’t turn the corner on him. Junior Zach Becker certainly passes the eye test here and could help fill a vacancy. Sophomore Ryan Cafun could factor in here. I’ve heard great word of mouth from the QND Staff on Jack Marth’s value here as the potential prototype intimidator/run-stuffing Inside Linebacker this crew could desperately use.
The Raiders four man front will be almost entirely rebuilt as well; though you can’t help but feel optimistic about any group that gets to line up Jonny Bottorff and set that big fellow to work. He had 42 tackles a year ago, four stops for loss and a pair of quarterback sacks. Again, there is not another 285 pound kid in our region who moves better than Johnny; who I suspect rises as this programs next in a long list of luminous All Staters. Auditions are open for the other three slots here. We saw some good things from Sam Hea at the QU Jamboree. Clayton Dyer is a 6’3” Defensive End candidate. Brendan Maas, Drew Genenbacher, Ian Tyrpin and Tyler Bertram are names to watch here as well.
APPEALING TO A HYER POWER: If you are looking for a great, under-radar breakout kid from QND this Fall, keep an eye on Sophomore Defensive Back Grant Hyer. He’s not very big at 5’9” and 160 pounds, but Grant sure did play well beyond the Freshman Norm last season with 23 tackles and a pair of interceptions. He and Nathan Obert are kind of the long and short of it for the QND Secondary, so to speak; but both are unique in their ability to contribute. Obert’s length and ability to run here could well portend a College Career down the road. He’s got some coverage aspects to clean up as a Senior, but if he fine tunes correctly, he’s going to have college coaches salivating. Johnny Ohnemus jumping into the mix here at Safety could also prove a tremendous boon.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: The schedule starts with a bang for QND as Jack Cornell makes his coaching debut at Lexington, Missouri against a Minuteman squad that went 9-2 last season. The Raiders will also see Alleman, Geneseo and West Hancock in a frontloaded slate that makes a clean start imperative here. That established, I still think the Playoff Calculus works in QND’s favor here if the Raiders tighten up their defense and continue to be a team that stays in its own lane on Offense. Read: monopolizing Ball Control approach buoyed by a continuing fastidiousness in eliminating mistakes. I’ll lay you dollars to donuts this Fall that QND wins every single game in which the Raider Offense takes more snaps than the opponent. That’s my level of confidence in this offense being able to spread a defense thin and create matchup issues. I’ll reserve my judgement on the Raider Defense until we see it in person. (In full disclosure, QND didn’t look overly sharp in that aspect of the game at the QU Jamboree. But history is taught me never to put too much stock in July Football anyway) My optimistic view here is that the Raiders could win as many as seven in the regular season; but I feel more comfortable at this point setting the over/under at six and let us see where this new staff is as a Player Development enterprise in Late August. Again, it’s hard not to like the hire of Jack Cornell in premise. He both fits the existing template successfully set by Bill Connell while simultaneously tweaking it in a fresh new direction. And Jack’s energy and enthusiasm are the kind of traits that tend to help spur success in any endeavor. The man has his self-professed dream job. It certainly won’t be an easy one in which to achieve all the goals Cornell has laid out. But nothing worth doing ever is easy. So welcome to Point A, everybody of a new era of Raider Football; the program’s first real turning point moment in three decades. It figures to be a real E-Ticket Ride this Fall.