COVENTRY — Every offensive play the Coventry football worked on during the preseason last year went for naught when, after the Oakers were humbled in a non-league game by North Kingstown, Coventry coach Gerry Zannella eschewed the passing game in favor of the single wing out of self perseveration.
That shouldn't be the case this year as the Oakers enter the new season with a new quarterback and a new mindset. Junior Joe Foley, who quarterbacked the Oakers' JV team last year, will be the signal caller this season.
Even though its only been two days, Zannella is excited with what he's seeing from his quarterback and the rest of the team.
"We're very optimistic," Zannella said. "We believe this team has great potential - we really, really do. I think that this team has the makings of being very, very good. As quickly as we are progressing and installing things, we can't take a step back because of contact."
"This is a great group of guys and they're fun to work with," Foley said after Tuesday's three-hour practice at the high school.
"What we want to do right now is just get the plays down and we want to execute it right because when it comes time to play the game we will have it down."
For Monday and Tuesday's practices Coventry's players were only allowed to wear helmets, which meant the sessions were spent installing the offense. The good news for Foley and a number of the underclassmen is the offense was a continuation of what they ran as junior varsity players last season.
Upperclassmen like Vincent Zannella, Michael Nolan and Steven Felkel are going back to school this week, trying to relearn an offense they ran two years ago.
"A lot of the seniors are going to learn something new, but for the underclassmen, this is what they did," Zannella said. "We didn't have a wholesale offensive philosophy change. We knew we had an issue and I made a decision for a one-year stop-gap measure."
"As the quarterback you have to know what everyone else on the team is doing," Foley said. "We have playoff potential, we just need to listen to the coaches and keep working."
Finding a new quarterback wasn't Zannella's biggest concern entering training camp, it was finding a way to adjust to the Interscholastic League’s time restrictions on the first week of practice. For the past 20 years, Zannella said, he practiced twice a day. The morning two-hour session was for the offense and the afternoon session focused on the defense.
Now, because the RIIL only allows three hours of practice a day for the first week, Coventry was forced to align its schedule with West Warwick’s. The Oakers are practicing for three hours starting at 8:00 a.m.
Needless to say, Zannella isn't happy he has to adapt his practice schedule.
"Now, you have to factor in a three-hour practice. You have a major, significant change from offense to defense within the practice," Zannella said. "Around 9:30 we're like 'Ok, now the defense has to go.' It's tough. You have to develop more stamina.
"The practice preparation is a little more extensive because you have to take into account the heat, the extra hour and transition from drill to drill."
Zannella's son, senior middle linebacker Vincent, said he's noticed a difference in the way the team's practicing this year.
"It's tough with one, three-hour session as opposed to a good, solid two-hour session," Zannella said. "You can get a lot done and then you have time off so the guys can get fresh for the afternoon. In a three-hour practice, guys start to get tired in that last hour."
Every team in the state will have their players in shoulder pads Wednesday before they can wear full pads on Saturday. Zannella said the key is for the team to continue improving once the hitting begins.
"We're slowly increasing the temperature of the water," Zannella said. "I think what really, really needs to happen is there needs to be a sense of urgency. I think the seniors, within this week, need to realize they're seniors. The success of this year's team is how quickly we can get the underclassmen to buy in. The seniors need to lead the way."