On Tuesday I received my initiation into a River Bend area football tradition — the Quarterback Club Banquet at the Alton Knights of Columbus Hall.
Tuesday marked the first of three dinners to celebrate our five high school programs — Alton, Civic Memorial, East Alton-Wood River, Marquette Catholic and Roxana.
As a food connoisseur I have to say the chicken was the all-star of this event, but the coaches weren’t too bad either. It was more like a roast, as coaches heckled one another and the media during speeches previewing the 2014 season, which begins tonight.
EA-WR went first, but with head coach Joe Parmentier attempting to beat the heat with a 6 p.m. practice, he was unable to attend. Assistant coach Trey Stille took the stage to preview the Oilers, who open the season welcoming Columbia at 7 p.m. tonight.
Stille joked that EA-WR didn’t do itself any favors by kicking off the season with the powerful Eagles, but did admit he sees the Oilers as a local sleeper team with a shot at the playoffs.
After going 2-7 last season, EA-WR finds itself in the Prairie State Conference for its initial campaign. Stille bragged about the 26 freshmen who will provide a nice influx of youth but also boasted about the seven seniors and the leadership they will bring to the table. He listed senior Darius Clark as a jack-of-all-trades for the Oilers this year.
Next, Marquette’s Matt Bucher stepped to the podium. Entering his second season as head coach, Bucher began by addressing the issue of the six players who transferred out of the Explorers’ program. He assured fans that the squad is moving forward without them and not dwelling on their departure.
He said low numbers will hamper the program, noting only 23 players on varsity, but said there are 20 in the freshmen class, which bodes well for the future and everyone will dress on Fridays.
He thinks the Explorers will be sophomore-driven in ’14 but talked up his six seniors, calling them “a resilient group.” The Explorers, who were 7-3 last year, will be in search of their ninth consecutive playoff appearance.
Renewing an old rivalry, Marquette opens with CM on the road at 7 p.m. tonight. Bucher joked that he wished good luck to everyone there, except CM in Week 1 and the Oilers in Week 5 when the Explorers play them.
Alton’s Jeff Alderman followed Bucher. A 4-5 record a year ago, including a 3-4 mark in the Southwestern Conference, has a little positive buzz around the Redbirds for the first time in awhile.
Entering his third season, Alderman began by quipping that the scrumptious chicken dinner has helped to expand his waistline at the banquet over the last two years.
With 22 seniors on Alton in 2014, Alderman said the focus is simple — limit mistakes — and he thinks with a consistency on the coaching staff and solid players the Redbirds can do that.
“We feel good about the direction things are taking,” Alderman said.
He knows it’s an uphill battle in the rugged SWC but pointed to the likes of Lovonte Hobbs back at quarterback and Justus Pedrero at running back to help AHS take another step forward.
Alton opens at home with Pekin at 7 p.m. tonight.
CM’s Justin Winslow was next on the stage. Winslow is embarking on his fourth season at the helm of the Eagles.
He began by embracing the renewed Marquette rivalry game at 7 p.m. tonight. He was pushing for it to be the St. Louis Rams Game of the Week and at press time it was the leading game by a large margin, putting even higher stakes on the contest.
There are 46 kids on the roster and Winslow saluted the 11 seniors for their leadership qualities.
“The seniors have done everything asked of them,” he said.
He mentioned senior wide receiver Caleb Buhs and offensive linemen Travis Pfeifer and Danny Henson as great leaders.
He also said junior signal caller Adam Hill will be a force, listing him as being ahead of former standouts QBs Zach Tobin and Kyle Kirkpatrick at this age.
He said a lot of sophomores will play too and ended by saying, “I think we’re a sleeper in the MVC.”
Finally, Roxana’s Pat Keith ended the night. At 38 and entering his sixth season as head coach of the Shells, he’s the longest-tenured coach in the River Bend schools. With that, he promptly joked he will probably get fired next year.
He then got serious and addressed how things have changed on the high school gridiron; numbers are down and with the state of the game it has become difficult for coaches to last in one spot like Roxana legend Charlie Raich.
He talked about the lack of local rivalries and how that has hurt participation from students and the community.
“That’s what is missing now in local football,” Keith said.
He then applauded the games between CM and Marquette and EA-WR and Marquette.
As for the Shells, he said there are 50 total players and 30 on varsity, including nine seniors.
He listed Chance Foss (QB), Logan Reardon (FB/LB), Luke Curtis (OLB/OL), Blake Vandiver (RB), Seth Chester (FS/RB) and Brennan Harris (OL) as key cogs for Roxana’s success.
The Shells were 3-6 in a loaded South Central Conference a year ago. They start at 7 p.m. tonight at Carlinville, delving right into league play.
Keith talked about tradition and what Roxana has had and is aspiring to recapture.
“We need to make the playoffs this year and that’s our goal every year,” he said.
For anyone who would like to attend the next two Quarterbacks Club banquets, No. 2 is at 7 p.m. on Sept. 30 and the “Player of the Year” banquet is on Nov. 18. Tickets can be purchased for $25 at the door or call Bill Keller at 462-9059 for additional information.
The chicken is worth it — and the pigskin talk isn’t too shabby either.