2018 Gridiron: Rushville-Industry Rockets
Colors: Purple and gold
Total Returning Lettermen: 15
2017 Overall Record: 1-8
Head Coach: Brian Lafferty
Years at School: 2
Record at School: 1-8
Overall Record: 1-8
THE FAST AND THE CURIOUS: ROCKETS LOOM AS ONE OF TRI-STATE FOOTBALL’S BIGGEST MYSTERIES
THE LAFF FACTORY: Hired late and working on a short clock, Brian Lafferty’s first season as a head coach proved quite the roller coaster ride. He cobbled together a terrific staff (including his Hall of Fame Father Tim and long-time Illini West Assistant Pat Raftis) and inherited a small, but capable nucleus of holdover talent from Jon Hebb’s 2016 playoff qualifying squad; assets that seemed to suggest Rushville/Industry might not miss a beat moving forward. But like an exotic Italian Supercar with a timing belt issue, the Rockets profiled better than they performed; sputtering to a 1-8 finish. I know this sentiment conflicts the wisdom of the noted Football philosopher Bill Parcels, but to this day, I don’t think last year’s Rushville/Industry team was what their record said they were. It has been my experience that most “one win teams” are wildly overmatched week-to-week and very easily pushed around; often the victim of turbo-clock mercy killings that were decided halfway through the second quarter. The Rockets, conversely, were formidable in every loss but one. They drop a pair of contests by nine points margin to playoff qualifiers BWP and Farmington, giving the 11 win Farmers everything they could handle in Week Two. The Rockets played seven playoff qualifiers in all, including three straight to open the season, and it just kind of felt like this team punched itself out early without figuring out how to finish off games in the process. That’s a process. But you could never once question the fight or effort of this group in trying to get there. And that ethic should remain to be enhanced upon in Year Two of the Lafferty Era; with 15 returning lettermen in play and 14 holdover starters seeking to push the needle back in the right direction.
MIGHT NEED SECURITY: The avenues to improvement are readily apparent for this Rocket squad. Trimming the fat from a defense that surrendered 32 points per game would go a long ways in posturing Rushville/Industry back into the range of playoff eligibility. Experience could help smooth those edges a bit. The Rockets will return eight starters, half of which are seasoned Defensive Linemen. Senior John Sullivan leads that charge. The 6’2” 190 pounder posted 31 tackles last Fall, tops among all R/I returnees. A second varsity season of Zach Johnson, who earned 2nd Team All-Prairieland plaudits as a Sophomore on the Offensive Line, figures to help here a bunch on this side of the football as well. The 6’2” 270 pounder lends some needed gravitas to the middle of the D-Line and did post 18 tackles a year ago. He’s just a very driven football player and that figures to yield more two-way benefit in his Junior Campaign. The Rockets also return Andrew Phillips (5’9” 180lbs) and Bryce Smith (5’9” 165lbs) up front and have good looking Defensive End prospect waiting in the wings in Sophomore Kanon Prather. The Rockets will bank heavily on production up front to help shoehorn in a younger, less proven Linebacker Group. Kreedan Allen stepped in out of necessity as a Freshman at the Rover spot for Coach Lafferty and posted a dozen tackles. A year later, Kreedan finds himself the cornerstone of the unit. That said, Allen will arrive as no average Sophomore. He’s a young man with terrific sideline-to-sideline speed and a winning pedigree, after helping the R/I 4x100 Meter Relay Team to a Fourth Place State Finish last May. Senior Manny Garcia is one of the more gifted athletes in the school and if he can put it all together, it would be a huge boon for the R/I defense as a whole. Another Sophomore on radar: Lucas Wyatt, who at 5’10” 185 pounds would give this rangy group a bit more size to throw at run oriented opponents.
THE INCREDIBLES, TOO: The Rocket Secondary should be one of the best in West Central Illinois, if not the entire Tri-States. Three starters return here, led by Javen Quinn and his 27 total tackles a season ago. Kenton Logan demonstrated a talent for thievery as a Sophomore, raking in a team high three interceptions. Josh Triplett also received some starters reps as a Sophomore. The key addition here to a group of already capable athletes is Charly Tshibuabua, your reigning IHSA 1A 400 meter state champion and one of the unquestionably fastest kids at any level of Football anywhere in the State of Illinois. He’s a raw talent and still relatively new to football; but also a young man of seemingly limitless potential and utility here on a Defense that was plenty fast to begin with. Bottom line here, Brian Lafferty is going to have an abundance of kids who can run to the football. Again, the tackling should/has to get better but Rushville/Industry does have the ingredients here to field a very active and interesting group of stoppers.
GO FOR LAUNCH: Graduation robs the Rushville/Industry Offense of not one but two thousand yard rushers (Ethan Downs and Basil Buckner) and roughly 92% of its 2017 ground production. That reads as quite a setback. Still, I’d be inclined to argue that the run game holds enormous promise moving forward. Brian Lafferty returns three veteran Offensive Lineman in Zach Johnson, Andrew Phillips, and John Sullivan; as well as a very capable Tight End in Senior Marc Wilson. Johnson is already a top-of-the-Prairieland level Tackle and Sullivan may end up being as good (or better) as graduated All-Conference Teammate Tyler Grover was at Guard a year ago. The Rockets also have Juniors Collen Shelts (6’ 175 lbs) and Jordan Angel (5’11’ 215lbs) at the ready; not to mention one of the most accomplished Line Gurus in the State of Illinois in Tim Lafferty in place to help piece this thing together. It may not be the most physically imposing looking Line in the Prairieland, but it might be the most athletic. And given the speed in play in the Offensive Backfield, an apt symbiotic fit to this running game.
Junior Javen Quinn headlines the returning field of Running Back options. The 5’10” 175 pounder carried the football just 43 times in R/I’s crowded backfield a year ago, amassing 232 yards along the way. That may not read as the most fortified resume, but in the one game last Fall Javen received double digit carries, he reeled off 85 total yards, a 40 yard scamper, and a touchdown. The Rocket Coaching Staff sees that performance against Lewistown as the coming norm for Quinn and proof that he just needs an expanded workload to shine. Moreover, this coaching staff has already demonstrated a willingness to and understanding of how to mix and match back usage to coax production windows for all involved. Quinn won’t have to shoulder the load alone. Manny Garcia (5’6” 165lbs) can factor here either as a Speed Fullback or a Wing. Brian Lafferty also has a pair of absolute earth scorchers in play as Wingbacks in Track stars Charly Tshibuabua and Kreedan Allen, who are end zone threats from every spot on the field. I’d argue that in many ways, the lack of a proven “Feature” Back in 2018 makes this R/I offense tougher to defend than it was a year ago when Downs and Buckner were such known commodities. There’s a great deal of potential diversity in play and it’s going to take Defenses time to figure out just where the threat levels lie.
Josh Tripplet returns to steer the offense at Quarterback. His Sophomore Year passing numbers skewed towards his inexperience, but he is a talented athlete who should benefit from having a year now under his belt. The Rockets would benefit by posing at least the hint of a more viable passing threat to keep Defenses honest and the game should slow down considerably for Josh in his Junior Season to allow him to upgrade his accuracy. R/I does not return a single varsity reception from last year, but again, I would suggest that the Wilson/Kanon Prather combination at Tight End is a nicely little reserve of, as yet, unrealized talent and potential.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: Brian Lafferty is quick to tout the coachability, work ethic, and weight room dedication of this group of kids. Missing out on postseason football for the first time in three years clearly touched a nerve and as a collective, the Rockets have both the motive and wherewithal to correct last season’s pigskin pitfalls. They are also far better positioned to win games than they were this time a year ago. Everyone in the system has a year’s worth of user familiarity with the systems on Offense and Defense. The level of team speed here is as good as you will find in Western Illinois this Fall. And the schedule feels a bit fairer. There’s a little easier sledding in Week One with Monmouth United (a one win team themselves Last Fall and a critically important statement opportunity for R/I right off the bat) and a window here for the Rockets to build a bit of confidence and continuity right off the bat. The additions of Peoria Heights/Quest and Havana to the schedule also alleviate the degree of difficulty a smidge or two over last season. So, yes, I think R/I will be a much improved club both observably and in the win/loss column. It’s my hunch that these guys win four games minimum. Earning a fifth and playoff eligibility, however, is going to be a big bite. It will require a win over one of the following: Knoxville, Farmington, BWP, Illini West or Elmwood/Brimfield; playoff qualifiers all in 2017. That’s pretty difficult playoff calculus. In that spirit, I’d argue that a span of games from Week Two to Week Four is the real line of demarcation for these Rockets; with the Blue Bullets, Farmers and Sparclones in succession. If you want to be a winner; you have to start beating winning teams. In that spirit, I think we will have a spot-on read on this crew by September 14th. If the Rockets come into Week Five 2-2 or better, then clearly a leap (or two) has been made. The pieces are in place to be that kind of 2018 Success Story. Only these kids themselves can supply the psyche and confidence to make it so.