By Steve Ramirez
As far as Michael Ball is concerned, nothing has changed. The junior quarterback is still one of three main options for the Rowland High School football team, and the Raiders are still one of the top teams in the CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division. “Last year I had a lot of players to work with, the coaching staff was great and I felt we really worked well together as a team,” Ball said. “We had team leaders and it all came together. This year, it’s just like last year, except we have new players and a new system.
“It really doesn’t change anything for me. I’m going to still play my game. If (the defense) focuses on me more, that gives my teammates like Josh (Onovughe) to show what he has, or (receiver Leonardo Freeman) to do what he can do. If the pressure is on me, I can get it to one of them, and they’ll do the job.”
The difference for Ball is the role.
A year ago, Ball was the support for seniors Brandon Stansell and BJ Oyefeso, who along with the then- sophomore helped Rowland to one of the better seasons in the program’s history, earning a piece of the San Antonio League title and advancing to the divisional semifinals for the first time in 40 years.
This year, he’s moved up the totem pole of responsibility, and despite replacing several key players, the Raiders have hardly missed a beat, winning their first five games and entering Friday’s San Antonio League opener against Walnut as the top-ranked team in the Southeast Division.
Onovughe and Freeman have supplanted Stansell and Oyefeso and have been solid complements for Ball, who leads the Raiders’ spread attack.
“He’s just a good athlete,” Rowland coach Craig Snyder said. “He can beat you with his arm, his legs and his brain.”
The junior is doing that. Ball has accounted for 11 touchdowns while throwing for 475 yards and rushing for another 92.
Plus, he’s getting ample aid from Onovughe, who has pitched in 448 yards rushing and five TDs, and Freeman, who has seven receptions for 192 yards and and three TDs.
All three make the Raiders tough to defend and have helped Rowland to its 5-0 start, which wasn’t expected from a group that lost the bulk of its offensive attack to graduation.
“That was the concern, that people thought we would be weaker because of who we (graduated),” Ball said. “People doubted us because we lost our key seniors and thought everything was going to go downhill.
“But it hasn’t because we had key sophomores who just needed their chance. We had a few players leave, but we knew the people who filled those spots. It’s a great feeling, because if we lost a few, there’s somebody there to fill the spot.”
The Raiders have showed it, scoring at least 40 points in each of its last four games. But Ball said it won’t get easier, especially this week when they open league play at Walnut in a battle of the top two ranked teams in the Southeast Division.
“This will be our first real test,” Ball said. “We’re going into league, so we need to focus hard. I hoping we are going to turn it on this week and get it into gear. We have to practice hard, go 100 percent every day and when it comes to the game, just perform as good as we can and get a (win).
“We don’t feel the pressure (of being No. 1). We’re just going to continue to play like we’ve been playing. Just keep doing what we can do. We’re not worried about rankings right now. We’re just worried about getting (wins).”
And with Ball, the odds certainly are with the Raiders.
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