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Alumni football: Rockets of past enjoying the present varsity team's offense

Acting like kids

Brandon Wallace (left), a member of Rock Falls' Class of 2003, is wrapped up by Chance Wright (right, 2006) as Chris Heath (2004) loses his helmet during Wednesday's practice for Saturday's Rock Falls-Sterling alumni football game.
Brandon Wallace (left), a member of Rock Falls' Class of 2003, is wrapped up by Chance Wright (right, 2006) as Chris Heath (2004) loses his helmet during Wednesday's practice for Saturday's Rock Falls-Sterling alumni football game.

In the film industry, the play Rock Falls' alumni football team uncorked Wednesday night at Hinders Field has a name. It's called a holy moment.

"Nails! I like that one!" Rock Falls alumni football coach Scott Berge yelled to Brad Nailor, who will assist Berge during his first year as the varsity Rockets head coach this fall.

Only problem is, the play's details are classified.

"You don't wanna be running that in the paper," the alumni team's captain, Dustin Dahlstrom said. "That's our secret weapon."

At the risk of sounding like an Alumni Football USA promoter, to see the breakneck play that had all 42 members of the Rock Falls team hooting and hollering, you'll have to be at Roscoe Eades Stadium at 7:30 Saturday night.

It's there that fans will be treated to something they haven't seen since 1994 – a football game between Sterling and Rock Falls.

It couldn't hurt for Big Northern West varsity coaches to scout the game. Berge has his guys running the same spread-'em-out, pick-'em-apart offense that the Rockets will be running this fall.

"It's kind of cool," Dahlstrom said. "He's teaching us what they're doing. When we watch from the stands this year, they'll be running this offense."

"Not only that, but we're also his guinea pigs, too," Pernell said. "He said last week, 'We're going to try this play this season, we'll see if it runs here.'"

"He seems to be a kind of offensive genius," Dahlstrom said. "He knows what needs to happen on the field constantly to move the ball."

Offensive genius? How does a guy get that title? With a lot of help, Berge would tell you.

"That's a little stretch, I think," said Berge, who said he learned everything he needed to know at the clinic Jay Mammosser had him attend a few years ago. "They gave us everything we needed. All I really do is gameplan."

Pernell, a hulking defensive end, joked that he's going to split wide some, too. In reality, he'll be lining up on the same line as Mammosser, who directed the Rockets for 9 years before giving way to Berge, whose prolific offense lit up the Hinders scoreboard like never before last fall.

On Saturday, guys like Brandon Wallace (Class of 2003) and Margarito Ibarra Diaz (2006) will tear up the turf before giving way to will-be-senior Brendon LeBarron this fall.

Dahlstrom reached out to Mammosser as the alumni team was being put together and asked him to coach. Mammosser was incredulous.

"The language might be a little different, but he said, 'Really? I'm playing with you guys. I don't wanna coach. How old do you think I am?'" Dahlstrom said. "He always preached to his players their senior year that it would be the last time they could put on the pads and legally hit people this hard. He said, 'Now I'm how old, I've got a chance, I can't be a hypocrite and not play with you guys.'"

Two years before Mammosser took over as head coach, in 2002, Dahlstrom caught passes from quarterback Robbie Minor. The former Rockets standout, who spent some time in minor-league baseball, recently resigned as the Sterling baseball coach to focus more on family and his career with Sauk Valley Bank.

Between being back on the south side of the Rock River and splitting time with 1994 Rock Falls graduate Jerry Sharp at quarterback – the rest of the time, Minor will split wide – Minor is enjoying the major adjustment.

But when he wasn't breaking free for big-gainers, Minor was coaching teammates, whether they were just old enough to enjoy a cold one after Saturday's game or pushing 50.

"Player mode is fun, but being a quarterback, or even a receiver, I'm trying to help guys out as much as I can with the offense," Minor said. "And splitting out wide makes it that much more exciting – Jerry's got a great ball – but no matter who we're playing, we're in it for the right reason – to have fun and raise money for the program."

Dahlstrom said every time Minor touches the ball, amazing things can happen. It's funny how things come full circle. In 2002, their senior year, a loss to Alleman in a torrential downpour – after tinkering with a passing offense all week – spelled a 28-14 loss and a near-miss of the playoffs at 4-5.

"I couldn't watch football for a while because of that game," Dahlstrom said.

That's why alumni football means so much to these guys: It's one last night under the lights. Take 50-year-old Roderick Miniel, who was ready to shift from the line to the defensive backfield his senior year in 1981, until his dad was in a bad accident 2 weeks before the season, forcing him to work and help make ends meet at home.

"I missed that whole year after being there for the hard part – all the summer practices," Miniel remembered. "But you do what you have to do. And that's why I'm here for this."

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