In less than 48 hours, Rock football makes its return. Things are much different this time around. There are a lot more questions than there are answers at this point. But to Coach Shawn Lutz, that makes no difference.
There is a noticeable change this year against Wayne State, this time The Rock will welcome the Warriors to Mihalik-Thompson stadium. The past two meetings have seen Slippery Rock go on the road to open the season in Michigan.
“It’s definitely a positive [to start out at home], and I know it’s a holiday weekend, but I hope the Rock Rowdies come out and are loud,” Lutz said. “I think they’re ready for some excitement and we’ve got a night game under the lights.”
The last time the Green and White opened their season at home, the names Roland Rivers III, Henry Litwin, Cinque Sweeting, etc. hadn’t become staple names in the program. Now in 2022, all of them have spent their time in the program, made their mark and have all graduated. So now, new names will be looking to rise up for the Slippery Rock football team.
Even last year in the opener, the team looked much different. Andrew Koester started at quarterback. Seven weeks later, he would lose that spot to the quarterback who will start this Saturday, Noah Grover.
The day Grover took over the spot was a weird one. The Rock traveled to Erie to face Mercyhurst. It was the definition of a trap game. After a loss to Indiana (Pa.) the week before, this game was going to make or break the season. In the rain with the season on the line, the story of Noah Grover officially started. Grover led The Rock down the field for a game-winning field goal and a week later in the second straight trip to Erie threw eight touchdowns.
One thing is clear. Grover is the guy. But now he gets to lead this out on opening day for the first time, after being patient and doing his part to be a good teammate when last season started.
While he may be the clear-cut starter, that doesn’t mean you won’t see backup QB, Brayden Long. To Coach Lutz, their one, two punch will be extremely important this season.
“I love where we are at quarterback with Noah and Brayden, they’re both 4.0 GPA guys and they’re just so smart,” Lutz said. “They’re going to be important to our success this season.”
This new beginning also marks the debut of a lot of players. Lutz talked about everyone on the roster, but made it clear he’s confident in the ability of this roster. With so many new guys, Lutz also knows how important it is to acknowledge the presence of those who have been here. Starting with Kyle Sheets and Max Maciejewski.
The two will play key roles this season as the new weapons on offense settle in, and it’s also nice for The Rock to return two very reliable players, who break a big play at any time, but it’s even more important because they just lost three of those kinds of players at the receiver position.
“I think the staff has done a tremendous job after losing 16 seniors, and we brought in some pieces to the puzzle in the spring, but we added more going into this season,” Lutz said. “It’s been a lot of fun and it’s a lot of work of bringing this team together and getting them ready.”
But the buzz on campus is that this team is ready. But Lutz has made sure that the team knows, this is their first opportunity to prove themselves.
“I told the team we haven’t done anything, and yeah the past is nice, but I want to know the identity of the 2022 Rock football team,” Lutz said. “I can’t answer that, only they can, because no one cares about the past when that ball is kicked off to start a new season.”
Their identity will be revealed over these next two weeks, but it all starts this weekend. The Rock is walking as the No. 23 team in the nation, but that makes them a moving target. Especially against a team who has been unsuccessful twice in as many meetings in over the course of three years.
“We’ve got two big games to start out, with the first this weekend against Wayne State, who we could’ve lost to last year,” Lutz said. “They’re going to be coming in full throttle with everything to gain and nothing to lose.”