Offensive Line Steadying Influence for Roughriders

Steve Elshoff believes the St. Marys football team is stronger this season.

The starting senior offensive and defensive tackle knows he is, at least.

Elshoff, one of St. Marys’ 24 seniors on the roster as the 2011 season kicks off on Friday night at Sidney, said he and his teammates are excited to show what all their hard work this offseason means on the field.

“I think we’re really excited because we have a new optimism to the season,” Elshoff said. “I think a lot of people are sick of losing. That’s not what we do here. We’re really excited about getting out there and winning more games.”

Elshoff went from a listed weight of 210 pounds last season to 240 pounds this season.

“I just got a lot stronger and bigger,” Elshoff said. “In the weight room I was just working really hard. I’m one of the bigger kids on the team, so they moved me.”

Elshoff is playing both ways this season, the strong side tackle on offense and a one of defensive tackles in St. Marys’ newly-installed 3-4 defense.

Elshoff played tackle in midget football and moved to tight end in eighth grade. But when he began building more and more muscle this offseason, new head coach Greg Phillips moved the agile and strong Elshoff to the tackle spot to team up with three-year starter Seth Fitzgerald. That duo gives a Rider team that went through a lot of changes  elsewhere stolid bookends on the front line.

More security for the offense is returning starting center Austin Rupard.

The St. Marys offensive line, anchored by Elshoff and three-year starter  Fitzgerald at tackle spots, Adam Neal and Tyler Hunt at the guards and Austin Rupard at the center spot, has been a rock for Phillips in his first August camp.

“They’ve been far and away our most consistent unit,” Phillips said on Wednesday. “As far as going out play after play and repetitively run our plays and create holes, they’ve done it. If we can hold onto the ball and do the other little things, we look pretty good.”

The Roughriders travel to Sidney on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium.

Getting off to a good start, with games against Kenton and Elida looming over the next two weeks, is crucial.

“When you’re trying to turn things around, confidence is a major issue,” St. Marys head coach Greg Phillips said. “We want to get out and win the game. I want to focus on how we play. Are we doing the things to make us better? If we do that, hopefully we can come out with a win.”

St. Marys won last year’s game 13-7 with two touchdowns by sophomore running back Dustin Fisher in the game’s final 7:20.

St. Marys has won one straight game in the series. The Riders are 24-6 against Sidney since 1971 and have won 10 of the last 12 meetings. Sidney won 11 of the two teams’ first 16 meetings with four ties.

Sidney will enter the season under new head coach and St. Marys Memorial grad Adam Doenges, who will be installing a new spread offense after moving away from the Wing-T.

Doenges said he’s leaning towards starting sophomore Jordan Fox at quarterback, a 5-7, 171-pounder, who will be charged with leading an offense that will throw the ball 70 to 80 percent of the time.

“Defensively we have to tackle their skill players,” Elshoff said. “If we tackle in open space we feel we’ll be fine.”

Phillips said controlling the ball on offense and making the spread offense dink and dunk could be keys to success.

And both teams will surely pull out some new plays out of the bag in Week 1.

“I’m sure they’re going to break out some new stuff and you’d better believe we have some stuff we’ll bring out,” Phillips said on Wednesday.