A matured Rogel, experienced Trinity is dangerous

Published 12:03 am Sunday, August 23, 2015

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Zach Rogel fidgeted with his play sheet half an hour before kickoff, tapping it against his desk, as if it were a clock ticking down the seconds until kickoff. Sitting with Rogel in his office were his assistant coaches Chris Bunio, Elliot Meng and Andy Blair.

“It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks of us,” Rogel said. “No regrets. No nerves. I wish we had a cupcake to start the season off with, but we won’t see cupcakes in the playoffs.”

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As Trinity head coach, Rogel has spent the last year and a half learning, growing and, whether he knows it or not, maturing. He’s had highs, bringing a group of unfamiliar young men together to produce a semifinal worthy team in 2014. He’s also experienced lows, being kicked out of a basketball game for letting his temper flare with a referee in a contest against Centreville Academy earlier this year.

But minutes before his second football season commenced, Blair looked at the 28-year-old Rogel and 23-year-old Bunio, extending words of encouragement.

“You know, when you took the job last year, I was looking around going, ‘I don’t know about this guy.’” Blair told Rogel. “But I’ve seen how hard you and Bunio have worked. I just want to say I’m proud of you, brother.”

Twenty-three minutes before kickoff, Rogel stepped out of his office and walked into the locker room, delivering a fiery speech to his players.

“Silliman is not some big rivalry, but they’re standing in the way of what we want to accomplish,” Rogel said. “One dream. One vision. One team. One mission.”

As many flashy athletes Trinity possesses, the Saints were undoubtedly the underdog against Silliman. With senior quarterback Zach Kelly returning to a Wildcat team that lost 14-8 to Adams County Christian School in the second round of the 2014 playoffs, Trinity had plenty of concerns, especially on the defensive side of the football. To make matters worse, Trinity was rebounding from a jamboree showcase where ACCS flexed its muscle and dominated every phase of the game against the Saints. How would Trinity respond going against a similar physical rushing attack?

While Kevontaye Caston, Cade Wells, Jakarius Caston and Demond Fleming grab headlines on a regular basis, it was the backbone of Trinity that set the table for an upset. Players like Sammy Banks, C.J. Chatman, Cortez Adams, Spencer Adams and Joseph Harris were able to get penetration on defense and, besides an 82-yard touchdown run by Kelly, limited Silliman’s rushing attack. Kelly finished with 95 of the Wildcats’ 172 rushing yards.

Yellow laundry made an impact, though. Constant penalties (17 total against Trinity) halted promising drives and allowed the Wildcats opportunities to take a 20-15 lead, which would prove to be the final score.

The more the flags flew, the more I anticipated a tantrum from Rogel. I kept having flashbacks to the Centreville game, where Rogel slammed his clipboard down and muttered some not-so-kind words to the referee after a questionable call, causing him to be thrown out of the game. But as Rogel preached all during the offseason about his team’s maturity (mostly a sophomore group going into their junior seasons), I saw something in Rogel I didn’t see a year ago. Rogel, glaringly frustrated, repeatedly asked the referees what number committed the penalty, to which a few times the referee did not have an answer for. Blood boiled, but Rogel bit his lip.

As an unbiased observer, I was growing irritated with the amount of penalties called, which ultimately took the focus away from the players and put it on the referees. As a writer, I grew even more frustrated, as I knew I had to lead my story talking about the zebras rather than the high school players giving everything they had in a tightly contested ballgame.

I rolled my eyes, but Rogel didn’t blow a gasket.

He was surprisingly calm, perhaps because deep down he knew his team was going toe-to-toe with a bigger team and doing more than holding their own.

If Rogel continues to lead with poise, and the Saints erase the penalties, put the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools on notice.

This 28-year-old and the Trinity Saints will be legitimate contenders.


JAKE MARTIN is the sports editor for The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3633 or jake.martin@natchezdemocrat.com.