After three straight trips to the playoffs, this year’s St. Bede football team will look to reload.
“We’re very, very young. We have only a couple seniors this year that have earned some spots. We’re going to be inexperienced and hopefully grow as the season goes,” said coach John Bellino, in his 34th year at the Academy. “We’ve got to grow right away. We play a pretty good football team in Amboy right away.”
After the departures of NewsTribune All-Area offensive linemen Joe Pyszka — now suiting up for Western Illinois University — and Brandon Pietrowski, shoring up the line was high on the Bruins’ priorities this fall.
Senior Michael Slingsby, a three-year starter, will return to man the center position and also will double down on the defensive line as well.
The 6-foot, 320-pound Slingsby will look to anchor the young offensive line that also will include sophomore cousins Spencer Barnes (5-10, 195) and John Barnes (6-4, 295), freshman Michael Manning (6-0, 240) and junior Brandon Edens (5-8, 265).
”We’ve got a lot of young kids, and actually we’re going to be a little bigger than we were last year, but we’re a little slower, and that’s not a good thing — you’ve got be able to move quickly,” said Bellino, who added he was still evaluating talent throughout the line positions. “Of all things, we have an abundance of young linemen, whether they can all come through is going to be the question.”
Slingsby said the new offensive line was coming along in practice.
“We’re getting there. We’re getting a feel for it,” Slingsby said. “We’re all just gelling together and figuring it out.”
Slingsby said communication is a key for the young line to progress.
“We’ve got to get the communication back up. We’ve just got to keep talking to each other,” he said.
The Bruins’ line will be protecting junior quarterback Jack Brady, who takes over the signal-calling duties from transferred quarterback Taggart Venegas.
“It’s always tough to be a junior quarterback with no varsity experience. We lived with that last year with Taggart and we were not expecting it again with Jack,” Bellino said. “He’s going to make some mistakes at times. Hopefully, he can minimize those.”
Helping take some of the load off Brady will be returning junior running backs Justin Shaw, who rushed for 316 yards and nine touchdowns on 61 carries last fall, and Sam Halm.
“Two good running backs, two good kids, and they know what it’s like up here,” Bellino said of his two top backs.
Defensively, Bellino’s youngest son, Michael (6-5, 240), an All-NewsTribune and All-Big Rivers Conference pick last year at linebacker who also suits up at tight end, will return to captain the defense at middle linebacker after 75 solo tackles and 82 assists last year with three forced fumbles, 11 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
“We felt he was one of the best players last year. If we can get some people in front of him, he’ll find the football and knock you down,” John Bellino said.
Halm, an honorable mention All-BRC pick at defensive back last year, will join the younger Bellino at outside linebacker, and Spencer Barnes may pull double-duty at linebacker as well.
In keeping with the theme of a young team, junior Andre Hurr, who coach Bellino said “is having a great camp,” will be among a group of young defensive backs coach Bellino is eyeing for playing time, and classmate Dakotah Baker will join Slingsby in the defensive line trenches.
The Bruins will compete in the newly-formed Three Rivers Conference South Division this season, which means they will forgo traditional matchups with now TRC North opponents and perennial powerhouses Sterling Newman and Morrison.
“It’s good and bad. We don’t know anything about some of the teams we’re going to play. We don’t know anything about Princeton or Orion or Sherrard, so we’re kind of up in the air there,” John Bellino said.
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.