Playoff Talk with Niagara Storm JV Head Coach Dave Richardson (Part 1)

James Ryan

“Control the options. Get others to play with the cards you deal. The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice. Your victims feel they are in control, but are actually your puppets. Give people options that come out in your favour, whichever one they choose. Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, both of which serve your purpose. Put them on the horns of the dilemma. They are gored wherever they turn.”—Law 31

Right from the very start of the season, the Niagara Storm football organization knew that they had a very special group of young athletes on their hands, despite being constantly underestimated and criticized from almost every other team in the League (and the Region). With outstanding leadership and skill at nearly every single one of the key positions on this team, it was predicted by the Storm founders that the Niagara Storm Junior Varsity team would have their best season ever in the short history of the franchise. And without a doubt, they most certainly have.

Finishing the season “Undefeated,” with a season record of 7-1, Niagara has literally taken the OMFL by “Storm” and is now more than ready to surprise their upcoming opposition with a much more complete and diverse game plan, starting this weekend against the Rexdale Raiders on Saturday July 21st at 12:30 p.m. at the Kiwanis Field in St. Catharines—roughly the exact same time that Cogeco Cable will be airing the Storm’s last game against the Cambridge Lions, which the Storm won quite convincingly by a score of 53-6.

As the team gears up for their second season (the playoffs), I thought that it would be a good idea to sit down with Head Coach Dave Richardson to discuss the team’s recent success, as well as, to discuss the team’s strategy as the Storm moves confidently, albeit cautiously, towards the organization’s very first championship.

As the Defensive Coordinator for this team, I’m hardly an impartial journalist when it comes to the Niagara Storm. Then again, I’m not trying to be. Please enjoy this very special conversation between two very competitive coaches. Go Storm!

James Ryan: Hi Coach. To start off, could you please tell the readers a little bit about this past weekend’s game against the Cambridge Lions?

Dave Richardson: Definitely. I thought our Defense, and I told you all season long, that you guys have these players really well prepared and that’s key. They’re prepared for what they’re going to face in a game and I thought you guys handled them very well. I mean, obviously the height match-ups—that kid #88 from Cambridge was one of the tallest kids I’ve ever seen—the one catch that he made against Jordan Maier—that was just a height thing. I thought the coverage was there. But you guys did an outstanding job of getting pressure on the Quarterback—unbelievable!

And that goes a long way towards giving the Offense as many touches on the football that we do get. It gives us a lot of chances to score. The Offense was barely on the field this past game. You guys kept picking it off and returning it for touchdowns. It was awesome! I think we’ve had an outstanding Defense for the last four games. Defense has been the story of our team.

JR: Recently, yes. But for the first half of the season, this team was all about the Offense, averaging over 50 points per game, ranking the Storm number one in the entire League. With that being said, it seems as though our Offense has been struggling a bit in the first quarter lately. Is this an issue on our end, or are teams finally starting to figure us out?

DR: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think we’ve been waiting for teams to figure us out, and I think maybe they have a little bit, because we run—I mean, the running plays that we run are very basic. And they’re keying off our Fullback, and obviously Benny Ferrera—he’s our lead isolation block on a lot of our running plays, and where he goes, they crash their Linebackers into the hole. And I think that’s causing us to not be as successful in the running game, so I think we have to adapt a little bit. We’re gonna throw the ‘Jumbo’ at them. We’ve got other things that we’re gonna throw at them.

We can move forward with that this week, but I think it shows that with our Offense, we can pass the ball as well. We can get the ball outside when we need to and when the kids execute properly, we’re still a very formidable Offense. We’ve got a lot of weapons, and I mean, this week, I’ll bet we passed probably 70-percent of the game. We do have some running plays off of that formation, but I thought we were moving the ball fairly well with just passing the ball. But it’s something that I wanted to work on.

We did have a bit of a lead, and just going into the playoffs, it gives us a bit of a different look if things go bad at our running game. We’ve got a lot of weapons. Riley McCabe certainly can throw the ball if we give him a lot of time, and for the most part, the O-Line gave him all day to throw the ball. If a team wants to blitz, we’ve got a really short, quick pass—we can get the ball out really quickly or if they want to just sit back like a 6-man zone, I think we’ve got more than enough guys on routes that we can attack some certain soft areas, and I think Riley did a hell of a job doing it.

JR: All season long, starting from the very first day, we were completely underestimated and disrespected by the rest of the League. Even after we started winning, a lot of those same critics started calling us ‘one-dimensional’ instead of actually giving us the credit that we deserved. It’s like their egos just didn’t want to believe that we could be better than them. In my opinion, we are a team with great depth and diversity on both sides of the ball, but due to the success of our running game and our Running Backs, Mitchell Sheehan and Austin Whetton, we just haven’t had to show it, which is probably a good thing. I mean, why pass when the running game has been going so well? I think the past couple of weeks have proven that we’re a lot more dangerous and threatening than the other teams already thought we were. I think that actually scares a lot of people, and if it doesn’t—it should.

DR: We really haven’t had to show anything other than our basic Offense. I think the first five games, we ran a total of nine different plays, and I really wanted to, these last couple of games, put the passing game out there just in case we do need it in the playoffs. You gotta have that game experience. You can’t just run ‘skelly’ and run your pass routes at practice and hope it works in a game situation. But I think it worked really well. Cambridge was supposed to have the best passing game in the League, but I don’t know, I think we looked pretty good on the weekend. Owen Austin had a phenomenal game. He had some nice catches and made some really nice plays.

JR: This weekend, we’ll be facing Rexdale for the third time in five weeks. After shutting them out twice and outscoring them by a grand total of 82-0, I know that they’ll be playing some pretty desperate football and will definitely be looking to upset us this weekend. How do we get our guys motivated for this type of a game? The last time we played against Rexdale, I think we played a bit ‘bored,’ and as a result, we made a tonne of mistakes. How do you step up to a team that you’ve bowled over once already, and now twice? How do we get these guys motivated for a third game, and how can we take control of this game? What did we learn from the last time?

DR: You know what? I think we have to take the approach to our players and make them understand that, okay—now the regular season is over. This is a whole new season, and you can only go as far as your last game. You lose this game and you’re out, so you better bring that intensity. Bring Storm football and a really big effort—no mistakes!

The effort was there, it’s just the mental mistakes that we’re making. We have to eliminate those. It’s a whole brand new ball game—playoffs. We have to make them understand that it’s the playoffs now. It’s three games and away we go. We have to be very positive and make sure that they all understand that they have to raise their level. Playoff teams that win championships always raise their level up. Even if they’re already playing at a high level, they always find that extra gear—that extra shelf to step on—that extra step to just take it up—raise it up. Those are the teams that win championships.

With a little bit of luck, we’ll be holding that trophy at the end of the season, but we’ve gotta take it one game at a time and we have to take Rexdale very seriously. The kids are gonna have to understand that it’s a whole new season. Just throw the regular season right out the window. It’s one game at a time, and one little slip-up and you’re out. You don’t get a second chance the week after, so I think that’s gotta be our motivation moving forward.

JR: Thanks Coach. I couldn’t agree more. See you at practice.

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This is my interview. If you don’t like it…I have others. Check them out at www.mrjamesryan.com
And yes, Steelers…we see you. And as Don Cherry would say: “We’re shaking in our boots.”

James Ryan
James Ryan

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