Before fall practice started Wednesday for football teams around the state, new Rock Island head man Bryan Stortz sat stoically in his Public Schools Stadium office.|
At no point during a discussion about the upcoming season did the 2000 Augustana College grad lose his low-key persona, with his tone offering no insight on his expectations.
All of the excitement surrounding a season full of promise can wait.
Every response reveals Stortz is all business.
"Our expectation level is to come out and play as hard as possible at the highest level we possibly can day in, day out," said Stortz, hired on Jan. 10 to replace longtime legendary coach Vic Boblett. "The expectation level is that we're going to play an extremely high level competitively and fundamentally."
That appears to be Stortz, who led Lake Zurich to three straight state championship game appearances and the 2007 state title.
However, a few moments later, when he takes the field to conduct a youth clinic, the personality changes. Stortz interacts with the players, throwing passes and casually chatting near midfield.
The straight-laced head coach becomes the fun-loving football mind.
"There's definitely a level of excitement," said Stortz, who compiled a 62-16 record in a six-year tenure at Lake Zurich. "I've seen it in the kids and I've seen it in the coaches."
During a half-hour conversation, that's one of the few times Stortz tips his hand. Other than that, he approaches the interview the same way he approaches the game -- it's all business.
Now comes the time for the entire program to follow that lead.
"They understand the expectation level now," Stortz said. "We're still going through the little things that, hopefully, will get us a little better and better.
"We're not to the point where I know we can get to in a practice environment. These guys are working as hard as they can. Yet, I know there's more we can get out of them."
Those inside the locker room follow the lead, knowing they have work to do before their Aug. 24 season opener against Belleville East.
"There's always a learning curve," Rocky junior running back Brandon Richardson said. "You've got to be ready to learn new things. We need to work on everything. We're striving to be perfect."
Luckily, there is familiarity.
Since accepting the position, Stortz has worked to build relationships and establish connections. He spent the duration of last school year chatting with players -- including some in-home visits -- and working to fill out his coaching staff.
Once the summer started, the team came together during various workouts and a camp at Farmington to close an offseason that included the introduction to new offensive and defensive schemes.
"We know what he wants us to do," Richardson said.
The expectations come with a caveat. Before worrying about wins, Stortz focuses on building a tight-knit roster using wooden boards and cinder blocks as a way to get his message across.
From there, he wants to form a team.
"Football is not a two- or three-man game even if you have skilled guys at certain positions," Stortz said. "You've got to be able to find -- not just 11 pieces -- but all the pieces that make it work."
So far, there are pieces that provide excitement. The Rocks return three key running backs -- 1,000-yard rusher Richardson and senior tailbacks Markel Richardson and Amos Johnson -- as well as starting quarterback Zach Chapman.
Added to the fold is senior transfer Derrick Willies, who verbally committed to Iowa as a wide receiver last spring.
The skill positions offer limitless potential, but the offensive line and defense have question marks that linger.
"But we've laid the base to where we can build," Stortz said. "I'd be worried if we didn't have this groundwork laid that we have. In comparison to other teams I've been associated with, we're where we need to be."
Then Stortz closes with some insight before heading to the practice field.
"Seeing the byproduct of their work so far," Stortz said, "everyone believes we have potential to do some good things."
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