Teams tend to set goals before the start of the season, and the Rock Falls football team is no different.
Second-year coach Scott Berge has set lofty goals for his offense this season, expecting the unit to be in the Top 5 in production in the state – a goal that the team believes can be reached. But Berge also knows that even if preseason goals are met, it doesn't necessarily translate into wins.
The 2013 Rockets were proof of that, turning in a 1-8 record a season ago even as the offense churned out impressive numbers each game.
"We have seen it before," Berge said. "These are our goals, and we see ourselves progress and we're meeting those goals, but we're not winning games. It's one of those things we've talked about."
The Rockets have been put through a different preseason compared with Berge's first season, one with more accountability. Senior center Dylan Abrams said practices have been more strict, and a lot of attention has been paid to the play of both lines.
"It's a lot more complicated this year, and coach really is getting on us," Abrams said. "Both lines have been coming around pretty good, we just need everyone to commit to the defense."
Offense hasn't been the issue for the Rockets, and Berge is excited about what he has seen the offense do in practices. The bulk of the work has been working with the defense in an attempt to have that unit be on par with the players on the other side of the ball.
A look into a sliver of last season saw Jacob Mammosser lead the area in passing, compiling 2,226 yards while throwing 21 touchdowns. Senior receiver Austin Donoho grabbed eight touchdown catches, while classmate Daegan Wharff hauled in six.
The offense expects to be on par with last season, if not better, as Mammosser will be back for his senior season. Connor Cain, who caught four touchdown passes and collected 384 yards last season, will also be back, and projects to be a main target for Mammosser.
"The offense is something that we're good with," Berge said. "We can put points on the board, and we can score from just about anywhere on the field. What we're trying is to get them to buy in on the defensive side."
So, the key to the Rockets success this season will be the defense, a puzzle that Berge has spent the preseason attempting to solve.
"We had one of the worst defenses in the state of Illinois last year," Berge said. "We're trying to catch a different attitude, and hopefully we just got a little bit more mature up front."
The defense allowed an average of a little more than 50 points per game last season. The Rockets allowed at least 40 points in eight of the nine games, with the low mark coming in Week 2 against Marengo – the team's only win – allowing 21 points.
Berge has been harping on winning the battle up front on the line, and figures that the rest will fall into place with the help of a number of returning players, including the addition of Matt Mammosser.
The senior figured to be a key two-way player last year before a season-ending injury wiped out his season. He tore the ACL in his left knee during the first game of the season, a loss to Harvard. It was a fluke injury that happened when he went in for a tackle. He had surgery on the knee Oct. 3, and stepped on to the football field for the first time 2 weeks ago.
"So far, I've been really comfortable with what I've been doing," he said. "I had a quick recovery, and I hope this defense can take a huge step this year.
"It was tough to watch us be in a place where we didn't want to be last season, and I think we all believe that can change."
Did you know?
Rock Falls has made the playoffs twice in program history, coming in 1985 and 1992. The Rockets' last winning season came in 2009.