Features | Friday Night Drive

Versatility helping Rock Falls build program

Rock Falls QB Easton Canales runs the ball Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 against Stillman Valley.

As the Rock Falls Rockets try to build the football program under Kevin Parker, there’s one thing the fourth-year head coach has learned to appreciate more than anything else: his players’ versatility.

As the Rockets (0-5) try to find ways to improve, one of the things the coaching staff will do is move players around to different positions to see which pieces fit where in the puzzle.

The fact that so many Rock Falls players are interchangeable at different positions has been something that Parker and his assistant coaches have used to their advantage as they try to find the right lineup.

“It is nice in that way. We have kids maybe even a little bit out of position from what they’re used to, but that’s an opportunity for somebody to step up somewhere,” Parker said. “With making some changes in the program, it’s just opportunities for people to step up, get over the fact that they’re in a different position, and show that they want to play this game.”

Desire and effort are the main attributes of players willing to move around. But it’s also about guys who might not be getting as much playing time at their current position realizing there’s a chance to see the field more somewhere else.

“I’m just trying to find out where I fit in,” said junior Richard Nichols, who was a wide receiver until a couple of weeks ago, when Parker put him in on the offensive line. “I’m obviously not fully grown into the line yet, but I’m still a junior and have one more year left. I’m playing right guard now, and it’s definitely really new, because I’ve always been a wide receiver, but now I’m more in there with the big boys. A lot of people are changing up too, just to find their place.”

Nichols was a bit skeptical when Parker first told him he’d be starting on the offensive line, and he wasn’t sure what to expect up front.

But it didn’t take the 165-pound junior long to find his groove and realize that he liked being in the center of the action more.

“Last week, Coach said, ‘We’re going to start you at line,’ and I said, ‘OK, all right,’” Nichols said with a wry grin. “I didn’t do too bad; it was a little scary, though, lining up against 200-pound guys. I think I did pretty good; at first, I was a little nervous, but I definitely got used to it by the second series. It was kind of clicking after that.

“I like it. It’s nice to be inside; I like being more physical, and I don’t really like being way outside and not really knowing what’s happening with the play behind me. It’s been a nice change.”

Richard Nichols

Parker says Nichols is “maybe turning into our most improved player for the year in his new spot,” and has been impressed with how quickly Nichols has picked up the technique and earned starting spots up front on both offense and defense.

Sophomore Easton Canales is another player Parker pointed to as making unselfish moves to help the team. As the Rockets’ starting quarterback to start the season, Canales now shares snaps there with junior Vincent Lombardo and freshman Logan Thome.

But because he’s an underclassman, Parker has been playing Canales as his JV quarterback, and is using Canales’ athleticism and speed on the perimeter in varsity games, lining up more as a wide receiver and cornerback.

Canales says he’s benefitting as a quarterback from seeing the field from a different perspective.

“It think it’s a good thing, because really at the end of the day, everybody wants to play. Players shouldn’t be selfish in the sense that they want to play where they want to play, but they should be able to help out the team however we need them,” Canales said. “Especially with playing quarterback and then switching over to cornerback, and seeing exactly how the mechanics work. It really helps you read the defense better.

“You just have a better understanding of everything else when you play different positions and learn the game that way.”

Parker said the reasoning behind moving players around – even the starting quarterback – is to let players see what they’re capable of at the varsity level, no matter where they’re playing. He also knows that with the playoffs out of the picture this season, it’s maybe time to let some of the younger players gain valuable experience at the JV level, and give his older players a chance to show what they can do for the final four games.

“What that opportunity also does is some of our juniors and seniors that haven’t had the opportunity to show what they can do are showing out and getting a chance to see what they can do,” Parker said. “Easton has been really unselfish; he’s been playing some quarterback at the JV level, and he’s playing something different up at the varsity level. He’s made some real nice plays defensively on JV and at the varsity level, and that’s only going to help him be a better all-around football player in the future.”

Both Canales and Nichols agree that the position switching also has another added benefit: bringing the team closer together as a group. When everybody has played different positions, it gives them an insight into what their teammates there are going through, and makes it easier to communicate and understand because they’re all on the same page.

“Everybody knows what everybody struggles with, and we know each other’s strengths and what everybody is good at. It brings us closer together as a team, because everybody has a better understanding of each other and the position they’re playing,” Canales said.

Nichols pointed out that it makes things easier if players need to take a few plays off to catch their breath, or go down with injuries, because there’s a much bigger pool of players who can fill in.

He also says it helps the Rockets be better teammates, because they can help each other when trying to fix mistakes and improve as a team. When everybody knows how to play every position on the field, there’s a lot more player-to-player help available to make adjustments.

“I feel like it’s going to help us out a lot, in case of injuries and things like that. People can fill in at different spots if we need them,” Nichols said. “Anybody could play running back or receiver, or move into the line, as long as they get the technique down.

“And if something goes wrong, we know how to help that person figure out what they’re supposed to do, and it definitely helps us communicate.”