Columbus High football: Expectations rising for this year's young Blue Devils

This is the tenth in a series of stories on high school football teams in the Bi-City area. Coming Tuesday: Brookstone

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 19, 2012 

Columbus High football coach Phil Marino wasn't thrilled at the end of the team's practice last Wednesday.

He told the team as much in the huddle at the end of the day.

"We didn't get off to a good start today," he said.

The reason he was upset wasn't so much about the team's performance that day. It was more about the team's performance that day in comparison to others.

Because, over the past two months, expectations for the Blue Devils have risen substantially.

"We've had such a great offseason program, and these kids have worked so hard," Marino said. "It's probably the most kids we've had in my four years here."

Columbus has won just six games over the past three seasons, suffering 2-8 records each year, and Marino said it would be important to adjust their attitudes going into 2012.

"Sometimes when you lose so much, your attitude changes," he said. "You aren't as motivated. We need to be able to compete and not be behind by so much at halftime like we have been in the past. We need to do our job and play our best."

Do your job.

It's a phrase Marino has stressed to his team throughout the offseason.

"Do your job, and we'll be successful," he said. "But if you don't do your job, you're letting your teammates down. But this might be the most committed group I've had. They're really putting in the work and are determined to be better this year."

So far, so good.

While the team is still extremely young -- more than half of the kids are underclassmen -- Marino said he expects to compete in every game.

The Blue Devils will start a freshman at quarterback, Derek James, and two sophomores will split duties at running back.

But Marino is excited about the experience he returns in the trenches.

All five starters on the offensive line will be seniors, as well as two of the wide receivers. That experience, Marino said, is vital.

"It's the leadership, number one," he said. "These guys can communicate well with everyone, and they can point the blocks out. They understand what their responsibility is."

And the value that experience will bring to the new quarterback is huge, too, Marino said.

James, a 6-1, 175-pound freshman, has all the tools, according to his coach. He has great size for his age, and his athleticism is top-notch.

Marino wants to see him pick up the terminology and responsibilities, as well as blossom into a leader on the field.

"Coming from middle school, he needs to learn the footsteps and how to read the defense," Marino said. "You have to learn that you aren't just out there throwing the ball. He's really picking up on those things, and I think he's going to get better.

"By nature, he's a quiet kid, and he'll probably have to change that. He does take command in the huddle, though. His voice is clear, and I think once he gets into a game situation, he's going to be able to be more comfortable with the leadership aspect."

For now, his coaches aren't overloading him with too much terminology or depth to the playbook. They are easing him into it and simplifying the plays. But Marino said that would change as the season went along.

"We'll add more to it as we go," he said.

David Mitchell, 706-571-8571

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