Last season, the Hall football team heard the talk and knew the expectations.
With a new coach, new players and a new hope, the Red Devils themselves bought into the hype.
“Last year, it was expected that we were going to go far in the playoffs, but we ended up 1-8,” senior lineman Trevor Urbanski said. “Last year, we learned to not take things for granted.”
Instead of their magical run that restored tradition, the Red Devils were left with a sour taste in their mouths — something they are out to change this fall.
“I would hope that our kids think they have a lot to prove,” second-year Hall coach Randy Tieman said. “Last year, the expectations were out of this world and we didn’t live up to them. This year, I don’t feel that the expectations are there, or at least early on around the community — and that’s probably a good thing because we can just go out and play.
“I think these guys have stuff to prove to the kids in their class and their school, and the ones who are here are working hard and want to have something to show for it.”
It started on Day 1.
This preseason, Tieman and his staff have had more of a hands-on teaching approach, focused on proper technique and the game’s mental aspects, including being in the right spots and knowing correct blocking assignments.
Hall hopes the new approach leads to more on-the-field success and helps them fully move past the Gary Vicini era.
Since the legendary Hall coach retired following the 2008 season, the Red Devils have won nine games in four seasons under two coaches and have had back-to-back one-win seasons.
“As a team, we have high expectations,” Hall senior quarterback Taggart Venegas said. “We make our own expectations and don’t really worry about what everybody else says.”
The Red Devils return 10 starters from last year’s squad — six on offense and four on defense.
Urbanski returns at right tackle, while senior Jimmy Tipton will play at right guard, senior Nathan Tonozzi at center, senior Michael Yuvan at left guard and junior Trevor Case at left tackle.
The group will block for Venegas, who takes over at quarterback after he played the position last season at St. Bede before he transferred to Hall.
He will throw to senior tight end Matt Briddick as well as senior split ends Zach Urbanski and Grant Garland.
In the backfield, Hall will have plenty of speedy options.
Senior Jake Byczynski and sophomore Jake Merkel will play tailback, while sophomore Chris Hammonds, senior Collin Aimone and junior Tyler Taber could all see action at wingback.
Junior A.J. Gaeta as well as seniors Blake Lunn and Aaron Kerr and juniors Lionel Perez and Cole Elliott could all line up at fullback.
“I think we’re going to mix it up a lot,” Venegas said of the offense’s speed. “I think coach Tieman has a lot in store for this year. We’re all excited. We just really want to keep the defense off-balance and on their toes at the same time.”
On defense, Case will lineup as one of the defensive ends, while either Briddick or junior Josh McConnell will play opposite.
Trevor Urbanski returns as a tackle and will play alongside either junior Marcos Marroquin or junior Marco Gutierrez.
Tonozzi returns as the middle linebacker, while Byczynski or Zach Urbanski will play weakside and Tipton or Yuvan will play at the other linebacker position.
Garland, Aimone, Hammonds and Taber could all play at cornerback, while Gaeta will play free safety and Merkel strong safety.
Hall opens at Bureau Valley.
“I think last year was a learning experience, especially for me as a new head coach,” Tieman said. “This year, we’ve changed some things as far as what we do in practices, and it even changed a little bit toward the end of last year. There’s a lot more teaching going on than there was last year instead of just doing stuff. On the varsity level, you can’t take things for granted.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.