CHESAPEAKE CITY — With his eyes hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses and his face shielded by a weathered floppy hat, Vince Ricci stood on the Bohemia Manor stadium turf on a warm August morning and observed a nearby defensive drill with folded arms.
While he intends to call the Eagles’ defensive plays for a fifth-straight year, the longtime Bo Manor coordinator also has a new title this football season: Head coach.
Ricci, who is preparing for his first campaign at the helm of the Bo Manor varsity program, is just the third coach since 1997 to wear the headset for the Chesapeake City high school. He takes over for Joe Graf, who stepped down in the offseason after three seasons on the sideline.
“We’re trying not to change too much,” Ricci said. “We’re trying to make these kids work hard and set the example the right way with what we expect.
“The players have been awesome, so it’s made my life a heck of a lot easier. The hard work and dedication they put in this summer is kind of translating here, so it’s making my job a heck of a lot easier.”
Also making his transition easier is the return of senior quarterback/linebacker Jake Harris, who brings several years of service and an improved arm into his final varsity season. The veteran signal caller is one of a handful of returners for one of the UCBAC’s smallest, but more hard-nosed rosters.
“As a first-year coach, you’d definitely like to have 150 Jake Harrises. It helps the offense, plus he’s a defensive leader, as well,” Ricci said. “It’s huge, because he’s not just a good football player, a good athlete, he’s also very smart and a good leader on and off the field. It’s awesome to have someone like him.”
The plan, Ricci noted, is to throw the ball a little more than in recent years, when the ground-and-pound offense defined the Eagles’ program.
Bo Manor spent the final portion of this particular practice throwing the football in preparation for its first scrimmage — when game tape, Ricci explained, will reveal the evolution of the offense. Increased snaps in shotgun, an O-line capable of commanding zone-blocking schemes and a quarterback with an increased ability to operate the entire offense will lead to a more balanced attack in 2019.
“This year, I feel like I know what to expect. Last year was my first year at quarterback and I didn’t know what to expect. Now I know the skill level of the guys, I know what to anticipate and I think it will be a lot better going forward,” admitted Harris, who looks to improve on the 12 combined touchdowns, three interceptions and nearly 1,000 total yards he piled up last season on a run-heavy team. “There’s a lot of pressure with being quarterback, but I’ve got a good group of guys around me and they’ll take care of me.
“I love the new shotgun look,” he added. “There’s definitely some learning curves and we’re still trying to figure everything out and trying to perfect it, but I think it’s going to work out as we get later in the season.”
Senior safety/receiver Jordan Darling, who Ricci applauded for his hard work in the weight room, is stepping into a leadership role on both sides of the ball. Along with Harris and junior running back James Baglio, Darling is the latest Bo Manor standout to command the huddle, following the graduation of last year’s All-County pass rusher Franky Baglio (James’ brother) and 2017 Player of the Year Johnny Knight.
“People do say that me, James Baglio and Jake Harris are those people, but it’s more of a team effort,” Darling said. “If one person messes up, the whole team messes up, if one person isn’t in their space, that screws up the whole defense, so it’s more of a team thing.”
Despite the change in head coach, Darling believes it’s been business as usual for one of the conference’s most consistent programs. Out of the 15 teams in the UCBAC, only Elkton (15) has had more playoff appearances since 1997 than the Eagles (13). Both schools won a state title during that span.
“It’s been great, actually, [under Ricci],” Darling said. “He’s been lenient and understanding that we’re used to a different program. And, we’re putting in a brand new offense, so he’s giving us some slack. But again, he’s making sure we’re working hard.”
The task this year will be advancing to the playoffs after the Eagles (4-5) suffered elimination from the playoff race in the final game of last season — and at the hands of their arch-rival.
Bo Manor squandered a two-touchdown halftime lead in an eventual, 19-14, season-ending loss to Perryville.
“I knew we were leading coming out of the half in that game and we took it for granted. We can’t let that happen again,” Harris said. “It definitely stings a lot. We’re going to use that feeling that we had last year and carry it with us for the rest of the year.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig