Plagued by key injuries, youth and inexperience, the Sidney Yellow Jackets had a disappointing 2016 season. Now, anchored by two Division One recruits, a host of returning lettermen, and the return of one dynamic quarterback, the Jackets are looking for a breakout year.
Sidney – The sign hangs on the wall in the coaches meeting room at Sidney Memorial Stadium.
“The harder we work,” the sign reads, “the luckier we get.”
The Sidney Yellow Jackets would respectfully disagree.
“It was really tough to handle,” mused 7th year Sidney head coach Adam Doenges Tuesday morning, reflecting on a 4-6 campaign a year ago. “Andre (quarterback Gordon) went down after 1 game, but our backup, Jack Feazel, had more than 10 career starts, so we felt we would still be okay. But then he went down right before the GWOC schedule began, and then we had to make some adjustments on the fly.
“What’s lost in all of that is the number of freshmen and sophomores that we had to play. Forty percent of our reps last year were done by freshmen and sophomores. Add to that we were down to our third quarterback who actually was a wide receiver, and heading into the toughest part of our schedule. The upside is we have 27 lettermen returning, where we normally have about 15. We are a fairly veteran team this year.”
There was a benefit for the coaches last year too.
“We had to become more creative offensively,” Doenges continued. “We learned about ourselves as coaches, and we learned about our players, and now you have Andre Gordon coming back. There is no question we can be better offensively this year.
“We were really young defensively last year (the Jackets allowed a division worst 32.3 points per game) and most of those guys are coming back. It’s been fun in camp this year, because we haven’t had to do a lot of re-teaching. We have a lot of experience from last year, so it’s been a good summer.”
Gordon lit the GWOC up as a freshman, throwing for 1,373 yards and running for 868 while accounting for 22 touchdowns. He threw for 289 yards and three scores in the opener against St.Marys last season, before breaking his wrist the next week against Bellefontaine.
“Andre brings a certain calmness to our team,” praised his coach. “When he steps on the court or onto the field, there is a certain aura about him and how he conducts his business. We have had to make some adjustments because of AAU and his other basketball commitments, but the upside to that is our backups are getting more reps. They will be more prepared if something happens this season.
“You can’t replace Andre’s athleticism, his ball skills, and his vision. Those are special things to be around. People saw him take that big step forward on the basketball court last year, and he would have done the same thing on the football field. His summer work has been tremendous, and I think people are going to see a more polished quarterback than they saw when he was a freshman.”
Along with Gordon, the Jackets will be led by two players who have verbally committed to play college football this season. Isaiah Bowser, a 6-1, 195-pound senior-to-be who led the GWOC in rushing with 1877 yards, has committed to Northwestern, while Devan Rogers, a massive defensive lineman, is headed to Toledo.
“I went up to their camp and they really liked me” Bowser, who has run for 2,800 yards the last two seasons, said of his courtship by the Wildcats. “The campus was amazing, and I got along with the coaches really well. Academics are really important there, and I liked that as well. “
Rogers, a 6-2, 285-pound lineman, talked about his decision to join the Rockets.
“I really felt comfortable with the coaches. I went to game with my parents and they showed me a lot of love. I just felt like I had been there before. They contacted me every day and really made me feel wanted. Plus, I wanted to stay close to home.”
Both were happy to have the recruiting process out of the way.
“I am, but I know that there will be a lot of eyes on me,” Bowser said. “I know I have to go out and work hard every day.”
Rogers echoed that sentiment.
“I know that I am one of the best players on the team. That means that I have to be the hardest working as well. I can’t take any days off,”
“Those guys are really grounded and level headed,” Doenges said of the two seniors. “When things are going really well, or when things aren’t going so well, they don’t go to one extreme or the other. They are the most competitive, hardest working guys on the team, but they don’t get too high or too low. When your best players are like that, they set the tone for the rest of the team. They come in every day and just work, and everyone else on the team sees that example.
“We have 17 seniors, and 9 of them are linemen. You win with seniors and you win with linemen. Isaiah ran for nearly 1900 yards with no passing threat for 60% of the season, so with Andre back, we are excited about our potential offensively.”
The Jackets have not enjoyed much success on the gridiron. Since 2005, Sidney has won just 40 of 120 games, and 2015’s 6-4 record was the first winning season in 13 years.
“You can’t go around saying we are going to do this and we are going to do that because you haven’t done it before,” Doenges, whose 6-year record is 20-40, explained. “We just want to attack each day. We have goals and some lofty things we would like to accomplish, but we are just focused on winning every day. When the game comes along, win that game, then move on to the next one.”
The Jackets open the season August 25 at home against traditional rival St Marys. Asked to name one thing he wants his team to accomplish between now and then, Doenges was quick to answer.
“There is a certain persona that people have of our school and community of not being hard workers, and our kids take that to heart a little bit. We are going to play with a chip on our shoulders. Aside of the wins, these kids want to make the community proud. They want others outside the community to realize that this is a great town. We have already proven that you can get D-I Scholarships in this town. Now these kids want to prove that this is a hard-working community that can also win football games.”
Doenges took over a Jacket program that finished 0-10 in 2010. They went 0-10 in 2011 as well. The coach feels that the program has made big strides, and the wins aren’t far away.
“When I took over, the question from the media was if we belonged in the GWOC. When I first got here, we just wanted to do things the right way. We wanted to have pride in what we did and the way we did them. Then we wanted to become competitive. We had to learn how to be in games. Then we wanted to actually win some games and compete for titles. We are in that third phase now. This is a big year for us. We are going to take one day at a time, and hopefully things will turn into what we want them to be.”