By Mark Maxwell
It only took one game for De La Salle to fill up an entire highlight reel.
De La Salle began the season with a bang on Saturday, defeating Phillips, 51-48, at Soldier Field. The high-octane offense was led by running back Mikale Wilbon and quarterback Shelby Spence. Both Wilbon and Spence tallied three rushing touchdowns each, while Spence added another score through the air.
Spence completed 23 of 35 passes for 265 yards in the contest. He gave a lot of credit to his opponent but said the Meteors' game plan was the key to the victory.
“Phillips had a really good offense, but we thought we worked really hard all summer and had a great game plan going in which allowed us to score 51 points,” Spence said. “We were clicking in the passing game and the running game, and that's just the way we like it.”
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The Meteors ran a very balanced offensive attack, running the ball 36 times and passing 38 times.
They did all of this without their top offensive lineman, Jamarco Jones, who is sidelined with a minor shoulder injury for the next few games. Jones hopes to join the huddle with his teammates again very soon. His rehab is going as well as could be expected.
After being recruited by former Ohio State Buckeyes and New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, Jones committed to play his college ball for the Buckeyes.
“Coach Urban Meyer produces great players,” Jones said. “He is going to push me. I'm going to play against the best players in the nation at Ohio State and have a great chance to play for national championships there.”
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During the first game of the season, Jones spent his time coaching up his teammates from the sideline.
“I can communicate with the linemen in a different way than our coaches would," he said. "I convey the same message, just teaching techniques and things like that.”
Whatever techniques Jones taught his teammates must have worked.
“I give all the credit to the linemen,” Wilbon said. “Lineman give me the holes, and I just read them.”
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Wilbon, a Vanderbilt recruit, is looking forward to two big games this season.
“Loyola and Providence — both of those two teams are on our schedule. We respect them but we have talent too, so we will be ready for them,” Wilbon said.
Coach Dan O’Keefe praised the senior leadership of the team.
“I can't say enough about the senior class. Three-quarters of them are on the A-B honor roll. It's that maturity and intelligence that helps a lot in the way we bounced right back,” O’Keefe said. “There were a couple situations where we got down (vs. Phillips). In the past we might not have bounced back, but these seniors are very mature and very resilient. They shook it off immediately. For the first game of the season it was a good experience for us to get that out of the way.”
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O’Keefe said improving the defense would be a primary focus during practice this week. The coaches saw plenty of room for growth on the defensive side of the ball after allowing 48 points in the first game of the year.
“There is no excuse for the amount of yards and the amount of points that we gave up”, O’Keefe said. “We have to give Phillips some credit. They have some pretty nice athletes. They were keeping me awake at night all summer preparing for that offense. We knew we were going to have our hands full. We gave away quite a bit too. A lot of it was penalties. We gave 90 yards in penalties. If you walk away after giving the ball away three times and giving up that many penalty yards and still win, we'll be alright. We just need to correct those things.”
De La Salle will face Hales on the road Saturday night, with a Week 3 showdown lurking at Providence. The Meteors can make a big early season statement before entering conference play Sept. 20 against St. Ignatius. But O’Keefe said they still have a lot left to prove.
“The only thing that matters is what people are saying about you at the end of the season," he said. "I really prefer to be under the radar this time of the year.”
If the Meteors' offense continues to produce like they did in Week 1, they won’t be under the radar for very long.