There's a turning point in every season, successful or otherwise, and Week No. 4 served that purpose for the 2000 Reynolds High football team.
The Class AA Raiders, winless through three games, rallied at AAA Slippery Rock for a 21-14 Mercer County Athletic Conference victory. Reynolds won four of its final seven games to finish 4-6, losing only to perennial PIAA powers Sharpsville, Sharon and Wilmington. Its four wins were as many as the three previous seasons combined.
"We were in that critical situation, but we forced a turnover and took it down and scored. Instead of demonstrating a lack of confidence, we demonstrated a belief and a confidence in ourselves and that carried through the second half. To me, that's the turning point of this program and why we're a much better football team today than we were last year at this time,'' emphasized head coach Roger Shoaff.
Shoaff, entering his fifth year at the Raiders' helm, related, "I do believe in a 5-year plan, because even though your personnel changes, if you've got a good plan going, your coaching staff won't change, and it takes four, five years to get that together, understanding each other. Your philosophies don't change, but you have to build philosophies -- you just don't inherit them -- and that takes a few years. And also the student-athlete perspective of the program is something that takes a few years: weight-room, committment to offseason programs, that sort of thing, confidence, a belief in themselves.
"All those things take time to develop. So I believe in a 5-year plan, I believe we're on a 5-year plan, and I believe we are going to be where we want to be,'' Shoaff emphasized.
Shoaff said the foundation of his 56-player program will be built upon a nucleus of six seniors: Quarterback Tommy McEntire, tailback Deacon Jones, 2-way end Steve Weary, flanker-linebacker Tyler Middleton and the Svirbly twins, John and Mark.
"We have six 4-year seniors and all six of those kids are important elements of our team, all six of those kids are players,'' Shoaff said. "Those six guys are our leaders. They were with us when we lost to Sharon 70-0, and they're with us today when we're a pretty darn good football team. And to me, they and those assistant coaches are the reason why the program continues to grow, in spite of what some people around here might say.
"There are a lot of people who have put a lot into the program and deserve to reap the benefits of it, and that's what I'm hoping for with all the hope I've got.''
As last season evolved, Shoaff said he and his staff began concentrating on winning battles before wars.
"In the (season's) first half, we were playing good football at times but we were having a real problem with consistency, putting 48 minutes together. As we started to break down film in terms of winning and losing particular plays, we started to see that we were winning more plays than our opponents were winning; however there was a stretch of time in each game -- maybe 6-8 minutes or so -- where we would fall apart and break down, and it was during key points in the game,'' he related. "We were able to demonstrate to the kids that maybe it was a symptom of a lack of confidence. And by showing how many plays they were capable of winning and by convincing them that they can win the line of scrimmage, the third-and-short down, they started to believe in themselves. And when they were put in that pressure situation where it was do-or-die, they were able to find some things.
"A lot of the things that worked for us last year we're improving on this year and we're expanding on them,'' Shoaff continued. "We felt last year we were building a base, and it involves a 2-tight end, 1-back offense. We want to be able to do other things with that, but we've got that established. We need a quarterback who can contribute in an offense like that, so we've been working with Tommy a lot.
Defensively, we're trying to play balanced and fundamental, so we're playing a 4-4 base, and that leaves us in a decent situation no matter what the formation is so we don't have to do a lot of formation adjustments; we can just work on our fundamentals of football.''
McEntire demonstrated an ability to productively run and throw (completing 46 of 135 passes for 495 yards) last year, while Jones -- a 1,000-yard rusher as a sophomore -- battled a hip-flexor ailment that limited him.
However he has pronounced himself healthy this season. He gained 694 yards (4.8 yards/carry) last year while Weary caught 15 passes for 166 yards (11.1). Shoaff said, "We have more offense in now than we had in the second or third game of last year and that means a couple things: It means our experience is paying off and it also means the kids are out here focused and wanting to learn football -- and they're learning. What we tell them they're learning it and doing it, so I'm extremely excited about the season. We're a small school, there isn't always a lot of depth -- it's the same problem every small school has -- and things (injuries) can happen. But if they don't, we're gonna be a solid football team.''
Shoaff will be assisted by former Reynolds and Youngstown State University gridder Jerry Pacifico; the Scarvels, Frank, Tim and Don; John Tofani, another former Raider gridiron and wrestling standout, and Lon Emerick, Mike Holiga and Mike Winslow.