Veteran group of CHS gridders progressing through summer, new head coach says

Annual 7-on-7 tournament here will return this Saturday, Smith reports

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Then-senior-to-be Chillicothe High School football Hornet Isaak Rasche makes a fine, fingertip grab of a pass in front of a Boonville Pirates defender during the 2019 Chillicothe 7-on-7 prep football tournament at Chillicothe's Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. After a COVID-19-caused cancellation last year, the tournament is set to return to the stadium this Saturday.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

A variety of team activities – from weight and speed-development training to instructional camps – already are “in the books” for the prospective members of the 2021 Chillicothe High School football Hornets, but several more remain prior to the Aug. 1-8 “dead week” just ahead of the Aug. 9 start of official preseason practices.

“We’ve been off to an outstanding start with summer weights (work),” new Hornets head coach Chad Smith told the C-T in a wide-ranging recent interview. “Great attendance. Kids working hard. We didn’t get to do any of that (due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020).

“… You can tell they’re putting muscle on. Last year, we had a lot of (shoulder and related injuries) last year. … That was probably the majority of our injuries, so we’re focusing a lot on building muscle around those joints and getting them ready for a long haul of pounding pads and things like that. Doing a lot of leg work, just making sure our legs are strong, not just for performance, but for injury prevention. That hurt us last year.”

Smith and his staff – a mix of holdovers from predecessor Tim Rulo’s staff and others, all of whom the head coach has worked with previously, a distinct advantage over what Rulo faced in his first season with an experience-bereft player roster – is working with a group of players with extensive 2020 experience and a good level of talent and physical stature.

“A lot of these guys have started a whole season. A lot of them have played a lot, so that’s a huge advantage,” Smith remarked. “Very few guys are going to step in the lineup for us who didn’t play probably 75% of the season for the varsity last year.”

The carryover of experience and expectations for on-field success this fall has spiked enthusiasm, the coach assessed.

“We’ve never had a weight room situation (during Smith’s 7-years tenure in Chillicothe) like this summer, how excited they are,” he described.  “It’s exciting for me to go to work. I think, after last year, they didn’t like that (3-8 record) and they’re motivated and they want to win.”

He added, “The ones that are (in summer weight training) are invested.”

Smith anticipates a freshman-through-senior turnout of about 52-60 players.

“We’ll have some very, very good seniors this year,” he detailed. “They’re not just good athletes; they’re good football players. And there is a good number of them.

“The junior class has got a lot of good talent in there and there are a lot of sophomores that are going to play.”

In addition, the freshman class has multiple larger boys and others with talent, some of whom could be involved at the varsity level this season

“If they keep developing and getting stronger, they could be a really good offensive line” in coming years, he projects.

“That freshman group’s got serious potential.”

As Rulo had shared as the 2020 season was winding down and Smith agrees, the spread of talent and size across multiple grade levels for at least the next several years should allow the Hornets to get off its “feast-or-famine” bent of the past three years.

Prospective members of the coming season’s Hornets are slated to compete in the annual 7-on-7 football tournament at Chillicothe this Saturday (July 17).

The 9-schools event, canceled a year ago by the COVID-19 pandemic and now rechristened the Phil Willard 7-on-7 Tournament, is set to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at each end of Chillicothe’s Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II, as well as the adjacent grass practice field.

The roster of participating schools, in addition to MHS and Chillicothe, includes Carrollton, Trenton, Hamilton, Richmond, Boonville, Cameron, and St. Joseph: Lafayette.

Those squads have been assigned to 3-teams pools for preliminary play during the morning, the results of which will help set the bracket for single-elimination competition starting with a “play-in” game between the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds just before noon.

The title “game” is anticipated to occur at about 2 p.m.

The full schedule of the morning’s “pool” play is:

9 a.m. – Chillicothe vs. Carrollton (stadium/north), Hamilton vs. Boonville (practice field), Marceline vs. Richmond (stadium/south)

9:45 a.m. – Trenton vs. Carrollton (stadium/north), Hamilton vs. Cameron (practice field), Richmond vs. Lafayette (stadium/south)

10:30 a.m. – Chillicothe vs. Trenton (stadium/north), Marceline vs. Lafayette (practice field), Cameron vs. Boonville (stadium/south)

Once all pool-play competition is finished, the participating coaches will meet to sort out the seedings for the “bracket” play.

The 8-vs.-9 “play-in” game tentatively is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. The four quarterfinal-round games would then start about approximately 12:30 p.m. and the semifinals at 1:15 p.m.

The Chillicothe Football Moms organization will operate the concessions stand during Saturday’s event.

There is no charge for fans to attend.