Rogers football coach Rick Rios is a math teacher by profession, but also quite a salesman who sold his team on unity.
Rogers plays host to the Waite Indians tonight at 7 and sixth-year coach Rick Rios is hoping his Rams win their third straight City League football game, then add two more over Bowsher and Scott.
If they do, the Rams would be 8-2 overall (6-1 CL) and, although not likely to win the CL title, in line to earn the school's second playoff berth.
"It hasn't happened yet," Rios said. "Until it has, it's hard to talk about it. But we felt at the beginning of the season that this group had the talent and was willing to work harder than any group we've had in the last five years. We believed going in that we had a chance to be successful this year."
Talk of playoffs before the season, however, might have bordered on fantasy.
Rogers was 1-9 last year and outscored 28-105. In the preseason coaches poll this year, Rios' Rams were picked to finish 10th in the 12-team CL.
Through seven games, Rogers has scored just 87 points (12.4 per game). Of the 44 teams in the five leagues nearest to Toledo, only Swanton (59), Libbey (60) and Gibsonburg (62) have scored fewer points. Each is 0-7.
Rios is a math teacher at Rogers and, in most years, would probably tell his students that these numbers couldn't add up to a 5-2 overall record, a 3-1 mark in CL play, and a chance at a Division II playoff spot.
In one of his algebraic equations, however, Rios also knows that x or n or some other designated letter stands for the unknown quantity.
In the Rams' equation, d is that quantity, and it stands for defense.
Led by standout free safety Peris Edwards, linebackers Joe Bixler and Anthony Ben, defensive end Dwight Gibbs and cornerback Myshan Veasley-Pettis, the defense has kept Rogers in the hunt.
The Rams have allowed just 82 points (11.7 per game), with 55 coming in their two losses - 28-6 in Week 1 to Anthony Wayne, and 27-0 in Week 5 to CL co-leader Central Catholic. In the area, only Otsego (70), Central (75) and Rossford (80) have yielded fewer points. Those three are a combined 18-3.
"We really sold this team on unity," Rios said. "Our motto this year is, 'One way, one team.' We told them we were going to get things done my way, and that if they were going to follow we could do some great things. They've really bought into that."
The top efforts by the defense came in consecutive wins over Northern Lakes League contenders Southview and Northview. Rogers held Southview (5-2, 3-1) without a touchdown in a 12-8 win, then blanked Northview 12-0, the only loss for the NLL-leading Wildcats (6-1, 4-0).
How does a 32.8-points-per-game defense go to 12.4 in one year?
"You'd like to think that all of a sudden you've become a smart guy because you're winning some football games," Rios said. "The truth of the matter is that we just got after it. The kids bought into the concept of getting in the weight room and getting some things done, and they've kind of taken it from there."
"We really haven't done a whole lot of things differently than before. It's just a matter of those kids making the plays."
Edwards - a 6-2, 190-pound senior who has committed to Miami (Ohio) University - has 37 tackles (25 solo) and two interceptions.
"I don't necessarily pick myself as the best player," Edwards said. "But I know I play a big role and I know the guys look up to me and I've got to play hard every game."
Rios also looks to Edwards.
"Peris has been a leader since he's been here," he said. "He works hard in the weight room and in the classroom. He does a lot of the little things as far as getting the other kids to understand what's expected.
"On the field, Peris would rather knock your head off than try to make a fancy play on an interception. That's been good and bad for us, but he really does a good job of playing downhill, attacking the ball and hitting people."
Edwards has played this way since earning a starting linebacker spot as a sophomore.
"I love to hit," he said. "I'd rather hit than get hit any time.
"Last year was a big learning experience for all of us. Losing can either bring your team togther or take your team apart. I think we all just took the good out of that and turned it around into [good] team chemistry."
Veasley-Pettis, a junior, and sophomore strong safety Isaiah Ballard lead the Rams with three interceptions apiece. Senior corner Tejuan Bester rounds out the secondary.
Bixler, a senior, and Ben, a junior, share the team lead in tackles at 57. Bixler has 42 solos, Ben 37.
"We just have people working together this year," Bixler said. "Last year there were too many people out there for themselves.
"I wouldn't say we're surprised [to be 5-2]. Ever since our freshman year we felt that we had the talent to do it. We just had to get all the right people in the right places."
"Joe is one of those tough-nut kids that just gets after it," Rios said. "He's the type of kid where you could probably take away a leg and an arm and he'd still go out and make 10 tackles a game. He never stops working."
Senior Abe Smith and sophomore Victor Dale share the other linebacker slot.
Up front, Gibbs leads the Rams with nine tackles for losses (37 total). He is joined by junior end Willie Hawthorne and senior tackles Ben Swain and Nick Popoff.
With the defense having also been key in wins over Libbey (20-0), Start (19-9) and Woodward (18-10), a few stats seem to highlight Rogers' struggles on offense.
Quarterback Ronney Hester not only leads the team in passing (48 of 109, 767 yards, 6 TDs, 10 interceptions), but in rushing (121 carries, 360 yards) as well.
Rios still holds out hope the offense is about ready to click, especially with the threat of talented senior wideout Jermaine Dykes. But, until it does, he has one simple request: "We just tell 'em score enough points to win."
Five out of seven times they have.
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