Dave Rocco Brings Stability to Improving Covenant Football Program
In Mark Sanford's last season as head coach in 2008, the Covenant football team won seven games and made the playoffs.
In the three years since Sanford left for William Monroe High School, the Eagles have won six games total.
But second year head coach and athletic director Dave Rocco is working to bring the program back to its winning ways.
Rocco became the fourth different head coach at Covenant in four seasons last year, and the Eagles finished 2-8.
"13 or 14 seniors, and the guys have been through some rough times here at Covenant, four coaches in four years, and this is the first time they've had a coach back-to-back, and they've been great leaders in the off-season," said Rocco. "That's one of the aspects that's really shaping our team."
Rocco's coaching and attitude are bringing stability to the program.
"Each of us has a great relationship with Coach Rocco," said Covenant senior running back/cornerback Jamie Gaston. "He's a great guy, and we get to see him in school, and the off-season too, and just get to grow with him. He's a great guy and a great coach and a great leader."
"It's a lot better just knowing him, just being able to talk to him after practice, getting to know him, and seeing if we can do anything different," said Covenant sophomore running back/linebacker Austin Llera. "I feel comfortable with Coach Rocco and all the coaches here now."
Senior Brady Doyle and sophomore Gus Rose are competing for the starting quarterback job.
Doyle earned first-team All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference at wide receiver last year but converted to QB with Rocco's blessing after attending quarterback camps and improving his leadership and passing skills this summer.
Rose was a backup last year as a freshman, and Rocco will make a decision on the starter following Covenant's final scrimmage against Liberty Christian Academy Thursday.
"They're both really good," said Llera. "It's going to be a hard choice to make, but they're both really good. We're both all comfortable with them. We respect them. I think they're good leaders in the huddle."
"We'll see how it plays out," said Rocco. "I feel like we're like UVA."
The Eagles return the core of their defense from last year, including first-team all-state defensive end John Meade, who's receiving FCS interest from Richmond and Georgetown to play college football.
"John Meade at defensive end is an incredible player," said Rocco. "Being able to be behind the guys in the scrimmage and watch him play, that tenacity that he brings. He reminds me of like a Lawrence Taylor, just goes all out all the time. I'd love for all our players to get that way."
Meade played offensive tackle as well last year but will primarily play tight end this year. He's ran a 4.69 40-yard dash time and will have two jersey numbers this season, just in case he's needed on the offensive line.
The team wants to stop the streak of three straight losing seasons.
"I think we're going to do a lot better, have a lot more wins under us, and maybe be able to make the playoffs and go far in the playoffs," said Llera.
Covenant senior wide receiver/defensive back Jordan Hendrick said, "I think the playoffs are definitely a real possibility but also to beat teams in our division that we don't usually beat like Saint Anne's and Blue Ridge. VES, we beat last year, but definitely to start dominating the division, and I think it's a real possibility this year."
Hendrick earned first-team all-ODAC at DB last season. Senior Hank Kuehler was second-team all-ODAC at linebacker at 2011, but a back injury is keeping him off the field this season.
Covenant graduated four seniors in 2011: first-team all-state offensive lineman and second-team all-ODAC defensive lineman Clark Crutchfield, WR/DB Mike Estep (who earned second-team all-state as a kicker), and honorable mention all-state wide receiver and second-team all-ODAC defensive back Luke Benes.
Junior RB/DB Dominique Talley, who earned second-team all-state as a kick returner in 2011, and sophomore QB/RB/CB Tony Massie transferred to Albemarle High School.
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