It’s playoffs or bust for Rose Bud in 2013, and coach Steve Rose doesn’t think that’s too much to ask for, considering the situation the Ramblers find themselves in heading into the season.
Rose Bud returns 17 starters from a team that won a school-record four games in 2012. That victory total may not catch anyone’s eye, but it’s certainly a noteworthy step in the right direction for a program entering just its eighth season of competition.
“We’re still fairly new, but we’re trending upward,” Rose said. “By no means are we a powerhouse, but we’re making strides, and that’s what it’s all about. We had a breakthrough last season, so to speak.
“But this year, we feel like we’ve got everything it takes to not only make the playoffs, but also contend for a conference title.”
If the Ramblers are to place their name in the running for the 2-3A title, they’ll have to have a reversal of fortunes this year. Rose Bud won its first two games last season over Quitman and Conway Christian by a combined score of 80-20 before losing their next three games by an average of 22 points. The Ramblers then put up 55 and 51 points in back-to-back victories over Perryville and Bald Knob, which put them in position to earn the program’s first-ever playoff berth. But consecutive losses to Riverview and Mayflower to end the year essentially ended all hopes for the postseason.
Rose, though, feels the experience his team gained over the latter part of the year will bode well for them in 2012, especially since the final two contests were essentially playoff elimination games. Those two losses left sour tastes in the mouths of the players, but simply getting a taste of what it’s like to play in pressure-packed games is what the sixth-year coach is hoping will drive his team.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back this year,” Rose said. “And that’s big for a team that almost got to the playoffs the year before. We’ve got all five of our offensive linemen back, plus an all-conference running back and quarterback.
“So we’re a veteran group that’s full of confidence right now.”
Seniors Tristan Zimmerlee (6-0, 230), Trey McCann (6-0, 225) and Brandon Hampton (6-7, 230), along with juniors Francisco Charqueno (5-10, 260) and Dustin Swint (5-10, 230), all return up front to create a formidable offensive-line unit. There is also a great deal of depth behind that quintet, something Rose believes will help them late in games.
Quarterback Christian Reynolds (6-3, 215) is back after completing 114-of-192 passes for 1,628 yards and 20 touchdowns for an offense that averaged 34 points per game. The senior, who Rose mentioned has been in a quarterback dual to essentially “settle the position,” also rushed 163 times for 1,076 yards and 13 touchdowns. Reynolds, an all-conference performer, poses a dual threat for opposing teams because of his versatility, but Rose is quick to point out that Reynolds isn’t the only offensive weapon his team will have at its disposal.
Senior running back Cole Robertson (5-10, 200) gained all-conference honors last year after carrying 162 times for 1,091 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“He’s our bell cow,” Rose said. “He’s who we’ll hang our hat on. We’ve got to get him touches and put it in his hands because when we do, he usually makes something happen.”
Rose is expecting several others to contribute on offense as well, namely senior running back Daniel Strain (6-2, 220), junior utility back Caleb Ferren (5-9, 180) and senior receiver Tyler Weatherly (5-9, 165).
Defensively, the Ramblers welcome back eight regulars, led by Charqueno at nose guard, who racked up nearly 50 tackles last season. Weatherly also returns after garnering all-league honors at safety as a junior.
On paper, it’s clear to Rose that his Ramblers have what it takes to burst through that playoff door, but he understands that games aren’t played on paper. They’ve got to put it together on the field, and he’s confident they can do just that.
“We were so close to getting a playoff spot last year,” Rose said. “We had a shot but just couldn’t quite get it down at the end. These kids know what it takes to get there now.
“They’ve been putting in a lot of work over the summer, and I think they’re ready to get out there and show just how much they’ve improved from a year ago.”
Fortunately for the Ramblers, they won’t have to wait as long as the majority of the other high schools around the state to get the season started. Rose Bud opens the season Sept. 5 against Hazen during the Simmons First/Hooten’s.com Kickoff Week at Estes Stadium on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.