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New coach, team speed have John Marshall football team raising expectations

After some lean years, the John Marshall football team is blessed with athletes as well as a new coach who's energized things.

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John Marshall’s Darius Jordan (15) carries the ball during a football game against Century on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at John Marshall High School in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — The football adage is that “speed kills.”

If true, expect the John Marshall High School football team to win twice as many games this season as it did the last two years combined. Granted, those were a lean last two years, with one win in 2021, two in ’20.

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Mankato West defeated Century 49-0 on Saturday in Big Southeast District play.
Rees Grimsrud threw four touchdown passes and the Spartans started fast to ensure there would be no letdown ahead of the Mankato West matchup.

But it is true. JM is loaded with sprinters, with as many as eight players covering 40 yards in a sparkling 4.8 seconds or fewer. That includes junior quarterback/defensive back Darius Jordan, who was recently clocked in a breathtaking 4.42 seconds in the 40. It also includes seniors Michael Nicometo (wide receiver/defensive back) and Keondre Bryant (running back/receiver/defensive back), two of the top five sprinters in the entire state.

Then there is JM football teammates Salah Buraie (junior receiver/defensive back), who is running right with those guys. Sophomore LeeAndre Harvey, a dynamic receiver/defensive back, would have also been right there, but the sophomore is now out for the season after recently tearing his ACL.

And JM has three others who are just a tick off their pace. It has the Rockets excited, to say the least.

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“We have so many weapons in this offense, it’s just crazy,” Jordan said. “Everyone has speed.”

The JM players are also excited about something else. They have a new head coach who has breathed life into the entire program since taking over in February. That is 29-year-old Kyle Riggott, who comes over from Century, where he was an assistant coach under head coach Jon Vik. Riggott was a star player at Century before playing college ball at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Now, he’s a head coach and has brought a couple of former young Century assistants with him, Brandon Stanek and Lucas Fisher, among a host of others who’ve joined his staff.

Riggott comes with fanfare, regarded as one of the top up-and-coming football minds and leaders of young people around.

Getting comfortable, excited

His players have had all summer to get a feel for him. Riggott, Stanek and Fisher put them through speed, strength and agility workouts throughout June and July. Not only have the players raved about the fun and enthusiasm the new coaches have provided, but also the results produced. Jordan is a prime example. He went from running a 4.7 40 last year to his current 4.42.

“These coaches have made things instantly fun,” Jordan said. “All of them bring the energy every day. It makes football 10 times more fun.”

JM might have had a lot more fun last year had it won more games. And it likely would have done that were it not for two factors — its incredibly young roster and the myriad injuries it endured to crucial players.

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The Rockets, now a year older and bigger, stronger and faster, appear ready to make a serious jump.

“This is a really competitive and resilient group,” said Riggott, whose team’s resilience will be tested right out of the chute as the Rockets open Friday, Sept. 2, at home against defending state champion Mankato West. “Day in and day out, they’re not afraid to step up to any challenge we’ve given them. We’ve stretched them pretty good. I’m impressed with the amount of trust they’ve given us.”

The players haven’t only been impressed with the coaches’ approach, but with themselves. After going 1-8 last year, they see a dangerous collection now. And yes, much of that has to do with them being the fastest high school team that Riggott has been around.

“We have unmatched speed compared to other schools,” said the 6-foot, 180-pound Bryant, who spent most of last season on the sidelines with a broken wrist. “No one can run with us.”

While speed is essential for success, there is also the need to be strong and physical, especially along both lines of scrimmage. Again, partly due to injuries, that was a major problem for JM last year. Jordan, who may split time at quarterback with senior Jacob Brumm, had virtually no time to set up and throw last year with the JM offensive line continually allowing defenders to get to him. The Rockets’ defensive line also struggled.

All of that has to change for JM to make the kind of jump it's expecting.

Among those who believe change has arrived is JM’s best lineman, 6-foot-4, 230-pound Tate Zeller. The senior, an obvious college-level player, likes what he sees so far.

“I am really proud of the boys,” Zeller said. “We’ve got two separate offensive lines in practices and we’re all getting a lot of reps,” he said. “We have some guys who have really looked good.”

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Zeller listed senior Jacob Hanson (6-2, 255 pounds), sophomore Amir Omrani (6-2, 255) and junior Nolan Laack (6-0, 265) as players who’ve stood out.

Defensively, the line will have similar personnel, with sophomore Jordan Bell (6-4, 185) and junior Ivinn Mom (5-10, 185) two more who’ll contribute. At linebacker, things look good with explosive players Nolan Radke, Ty’Shawn Bean and Lama Kamara potential standouts.

JM should have its best secondary in years, with two-way starter and athletic standout Zach Ladu (6-5, 175-pound junior) at safety, and speedsters Nicometo, Bryant, Jordan and Buraie filling out the defensive backfield.

Rockets 2022 schedule

Sept. 2 — Mankato West, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Austin, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 — Northfield, 1 p.m.
Sept. 24 — at Rochester Mayo, 5 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at New Prague, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — Owatonna, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — at Rochester Century, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — Stewartville, 7 p.m.

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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