Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Pat Ryan Era begins 30th season Friday

FILE PHOTO / ALEX STAAB
Metamora, Ill. - It was just last October that the Redbirds would suffer a heartbreaking first round playoff loss to the Joliet Catholic Hilltoppers, who would eventually go on to win the 5A State Championship. That was then, and this Friday night, a new season officially begins.

Despite the tough loss, head coach Pat Ryan believes they did their best.

"Losses are tough, for sure, but it's not like we lost to a team where we felt we hadn't lost to a quality opponent. When we walked off the field that night, we said 'you know, this team could win the whole thing.' They were that good. The system is what it is. Even though it was a tough loss, our kids battled to the very end."

Fast forward 10 months, and the Redbirds will have a bit of a new look in 2019. After Thomas Hall graduated, the nod will go to Vinny Querciagrossa under center. Coach Ryan says that Querciagrossa is certainly ready to take on this role.

"Vinny realized that he was going to be in the leadership role and I think he's relished it. He's a coach's kid. His grandfather was a coach, his dad is a coach. He's been patient in waiting for his opportunity. This is Vinny's year. He understands the expectations. We're really optimistic about him performing well."

It's been a quality summer for the team. Ryan thinks that despite the new heat-related regulations set forth by the IHSA, they haven't come into play as much.

"This is probably the most non-egrigious fall we've ever had. We didn't really have any heat index days the whole time. What it amounts to is that you have to do a bit more in the summer. You have to come into camp a bit more prepared. Usually, summers, we're all about conditioning. Now, you really have to know the X's and O's a little farther along, but you adjust."

That summer is now through, and it's time to turn the page to the 2019 season. That will kick off with a very familiar Champaign Central team. Not only familiar in the sense that the Redbirds just played them last season, but the Maroons bring back plenty of players from a 2018 team that went (6-4) and lost by three points, 31-28, in the first round of the playoffs to Carbondale. Coach Ryan cites that the many repeating faces will factor in on Friday, while also mentioning how Tim Turner, Champaign Central's second-year head coach, has been able to plant his system now.

"They've got a lot of kids back. The senior class they have is a special group for them. Their numbers are up in that class. They're a playoff team. Tim's (Turner) done a good job there. It's his second year, so he's had a chance to build a little bit more of his culture. It's a formidable first team for us, for sure. Our kids know we're not easing into an easy game, we've gotta be ready to go Week 1."

Ryan went on to say how the defensive side of the ball will be a particular place to watch in terms of the familiarity and who will step up for the Maroons. He also had high praise for their running backs.

"Their running backs, they're kids that have carried the ball. Virtually all of them are backs. Probably the most carries we'll see all year."

We'll have to see how that turns out come Week One's game on Friday.

For those that don't know, Friday will begin Pat Ryan's 30th season at the helm of the Redbird football program, but don't think for one second that he's ready to think about that.

"First of all, when you're coaching, if you're spending all your time thinking about you, you're making a mistake. We're in the business of kids. I realize I've been there (Metamora) for awhile, but right now it's about getting ready for our season, getting them ready for the first game. It really can't be about Pat Ryan. There's no time for that."

When asked what the 30th season version of him would tell the innagural season version of him, Ryan paused, reflecting on his three decades of service to Metamora Football before mentioning both the players, and the coaches.

"I would just say, embrace the moment, enjoy the kids. Now, the part I enjoy most is our staff is well-seasoned, very fortunate in that regard. I wouldn't trade the guys I get to work with on a daily basis for any coaching staff in the world."

30 years is a lot of years, and he acknowledges that. The length of his tenure, Ryan says, really hits when he sees the generations of families that have played under his leadership.

"Several of those guys that played on my first team, their kids have played for me by now. I don't think I'll be here long enough for their grandkids to play for me."

On top of it being the 30th season of the Pat Ryan Era, it's also the first time the Redbirds have opened a season at Malone Field since 2015. It's a event of its own that has Coach Ryan dropping Wizard of Oz references.

"What did Dorothy say when she was clicking her heels? There's no place like home. We love our place. Our band's fantastic, our fans, our student body. This town has always embraced football."

The tradition, its own animal in a sense, is something that comes with expectations, expectations that Ryan is confident his staff and team are aware of.

"The expectation is always the same. We expect our coaches, including myself, and all the kids involved, to put it all out there. Effort is the ultimate thing. We've got one of the top five winning percentages in the state of Illinois, so our wins and losses can take care of themselves."

Another staple at the games is the aforementioned student section, the Birds Nest, as its been called. It's something that has Ryan excited.

"At Metamora, on a Friday night, at Malone Field, good portion of the school's student body is gonna be out there. It's awesome."

Metamora's first Week 1 home game in 4 years will kick off at 7:30pm on Friday, with the preceeding Freshman game kicking off at 5:00pm.

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