By Gregory Harutunian Correspondent

As the scorched Earth summer gives way to the milder temperatures of fall, the Richmond-Burton Rockets varsity football team has already been practicing in preparation for another Big Northern conference campaign and run deep into the post-season.

The Rockets finished 12-2 last year including a third consecutive BNC East division title, another undefeated division record, and clicked off a dozen straight wins following a loss to the Oregon Ducks in its opening game.

The squad ran all the way to the IHSA Class 4A championship final Nov. 25, a wild 42-39 loss, which ended with running back Jack Dechow stopped short of the first down mark.

“I just couldn’t be prouder of our kids and fans,” said Rockets head coach Pat Elder, last weekend. “We represented our community with great pride and respect. Obviously, we would have loved to come out victorious, but the game itself represented so many things that are great about high school athletics.’

Numerous records fell during the evening in Champaign, with Dechow setting a state mark for the title contest at 244 rushing yards. Dechow was also named “Rockets Athlete of the Year,” for his athletic achievements and diligence in maintaining the academic areas of his education.

“Jack (Dechow) is a rare combination of talent and humility…he was a great ambassador for both football, and wrestling, in his time at RBCHS,” said Elder. “Athletes like him are few and far between, this honor is a very well deserved one for him, and his family.”

Elder, and his coaching staff, have developed a strategy revolving around a relentless ground game, which has been sustained with players replacing those lost through graduation, and exciting playoff runs in a handful of years.

Elder also gained his 100th coaching victory in last year’s semi-final tilt against perennial nemesis Stillman Valley, leading up to the championship game.

The rushing game that amassed 4,004 yards in 2011, is set for a retooling with experienced players, and newcomers.

“We are a team that should greatly improve as the season goes on,” said Elder, in an early season press release. “We did lose several starters on each side of the ball, but have strong numbers at the varsity level, and have had a strong off-season in preparation.

“As we gain experience, we should improve.”

Elder’s assistants on the coaching staff have worked with the squad during the summer months in molding a cohesive unit. The coaches are Leo LaBrie, Brett Zick, Tad DePorter, Todd Ghilani, Colin McKillip, Mike Cosgrove, and Brent Mansky.

Elder does see the divisional play for 2012 as being waged against much-improved teams, across the board. “In the East division, Harvard and Central appear to be the favorites for the title. Rockford Christian coming to the East Division will again change the dynamic of the league.

“North Boone (coached by Aaron Sullivan) and Marengo (coached by Matt Lynch) will both be very improved…this could very well be a breakout year for them.”

The 2012 season opens with an away tilt facing the Woodstock Blue Streaks (2-7) Aug. 17, and continues with Chicago Roosevelt at home Aug. 24, Winnebago at home Aug. 31, Genoa-Kingston at home Sept. 7, away at Marengo Sept. 14, away at Mendota Sept. 21, Rockford Christian at home Sept. 28, away at Burlington Central Oct. 5, away at North Boone Oct. 12, and Harvard Oct. 19 in the home finale.

Members of the Rockets football team are returning seniors Adam Kinsella, Matt Malecki, Ryne Blanton, Chris Vlasak, Ryan Autschbach, Trevor Sheedlo, Trace VonBruenchenhein, Sean Kirby, Ryan Nelson, Josh Hutson, and Jim Canalle. New player recruits are seniors Jesse Dacheff, Bobby Liston, and Jimmy Galla, along with juniors Danny Rygiel, Ethan Petersen, Tyler Aitken, Bryce Wagner, Chris Gort, Nick Bianchini, Josh Williams, Nick Hogan, Cory Prejna, Nathan Hansel, and Eric Paparigian. (Richmond/Spring Grove Johnsburg Report 8/17/12)