It’s tough when you’re not hired until May and you’re replacing a coach that was hired to replace another coach who was let go after just one season on the job.
Despite the rush job, the Sailors actually improved, winning two games — the same number they won in the previous three seasons combined.
Now, with the full benefit of an offseason and the progress the team showed a year ago, Duray hopes to guide the Sailors to bigger and better days.
“The offseason preparation is the big key,” Duray said. “I took over last May, and the offseason strength and conditioning efforts were not there.
“I thought we did a great job as a staff and a team setting goals for what you need to do to play football and be successful. We had great numbers all winter and all summer. Games are won between January and August. And this team has done well to respond to our demands, bringing up the attendance and doing the things to make this program better.”
The waters will be rocky, however, as Vermilion sails into the great unknown as an independent, after deciding to leave the West Shore Conference a few years ago — a decision the school already regrets and is trying to rectify.
“It hasn’t changed our preparation much at all,” Duray said. “We’ve got to worry about ourselves. We’ve got to go 150 miles per hour every practice, every snap, every play, every weight session. We’ve got to worry about building our program first and the rest will take care of itself.”
Vermilion will have only four home games this season — none after Week 6. The team will have road trips as short as right down Vermilion Road to archrival Firelands in Week 3 to more lengthy ones to Youngstown Christian (Week 8), Spencerville (Week 9), Fairview (Week 2) and Lucas (Week 10).
“If you look at our schedule, we’re traveling all around the state of Ohio,” Duray said. “So it’s always difficult when you do an independent schedule, but our AD did a terrific job putting the time in and filling out this schedule.
“It was done one year ago so we weren’t scrambling to fill it. We chose some games far, far away, but we’ll deal with it, embrace it and make the most of it.”
The players know they’ll be spending a lot of Friday nights making long bus trips, but they’re prepared for it.
“Going independent will be tough,” said Aaaron Rice, a senior fullback/middle linebacker and one of 15 returning lettermen and starters. “Right now, we have six away games and four home games, and that will bring our audience way down because we’re playing a lot of games further than normal. But we’re still playing our main rival Firelands and Clearview. And some teams are teams that our fans know, like Norwalk.
“A lot of further trips and more away games mean we’ll have a lot less people going to our games. But I don’t think that changes how we’re going to play on the football field. Who we play won’t impact how hard we work and how we go about our business.”
“I feel like we’re up for the challenge,” senior tailback/cornerback Michael Repko said. “The only thing difficult is that we don’t really know much about our opponents. We’re going to watch a lot of film and go out there and do our best and hopefully win some games.
“Ultimately, we just want to win some games and get better than we did last year. Going .500 or better and making the playoffs is a good goal for Vermilion to set and to have. We’ve made a lot of improvements this year and we hope we can do better this year than we did last year and how we’ve done the last few years.”
The players said they sensed a difference when they showed up Aug. 5 for two-a-days much more prepared than they’d been in their previous three seasons.
“It’s made a big difference having a coach that has stayed with us,” Repko said. “It helps that he teaches at high school and knows everyone there. We trust him. It’s a step in the right direction. We’re improving every year. We’re becoming a whole team and not becoming a collection of individuals.”
Besides Repko and Rice, who headline a big senior class, players to watch include quarterback Seth Konrad, two-way linemen Tyler Cee (senior) and Ethan Griffith (junior), senior tight end/defensive end Joe Karras and senior center/defensive end Patrick Rileyeason. They will be counted on to contribute to the Wing-T/spread offense and the 4-2-5 defense Duray employs.
“We’ve got to focus on continuing to build this program at Vermilion High School, and that is doing things the right way, and being a student-athlete first and foremost,” Duray said. “We’ve got to keep building that program. We built the foundation last year and it’s up to the seniors to pick up the slack.
“We were 2-8 last year, but we made great strides in the right direction. Now we’ve got to keep moving forward and taking more strides to get where we want to be.”
Rice is hopeful this group of seniors is able to take the next step in bringing Vermilion back to the winning tradition it once employed.
“We have to build a program and we have to build it up,” Rice said. “We can’t go from winning one game to 10 games in one season, and the more games we get in, the better. At least winning two is a step in the right direction and we just have to keep working hard to get more in the win column than the loss column.
“Coach Duray has pushed us a team a lot this offseason to be in the best shape. We’ve done a lot more running, conditioning and lifting this offseason than I’ve ever done in the past three years. Hopefully, it will pay off come the season opener.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2012 RECORD: 2-8, 1-6 West Shore Conference
COACH: Rob Duray, 2nd year (2-8)
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 15
RETURNING STARTERS: 15
FAST FACT: Vermilion has been one of the few area teams to hold its training camp in the late afternoons. Due to some coaches having daytime work schedules, the Sailors have been practicing from 3-9 p.m. every day.
Aug. 30 Clearview
Sept. 6 at Fairview
Sept. 13 at Firelands
Sept. 20 Cleveland Central Catholic
Sept. 27 Toledo Start
Oct. 4 Ontario
Oct. 12 at Youngstown Christian
Oct. 18 at Norwalk
Oct. 25 at Spencerville (7:30)
Nov. 1 at Lucas
All games at 7 p.m. unless noted