MUSKEGON — Reeths-Puffer has some veteran leadership, but the Rockets are a young team without a ton of varsity experience. However, coach Matt Bird sensed maturity growing in his team this week, and the Rockets were rewarded with a dominant 48-12 win over Wyoming in Friday night's O-K Green Conference opener.
"This week was a big week for us," Bird said. "I'd say we had two days of probably the best practices that we've had since I've been here. You could see some accountability to each other and the team starting to come together. It showed here.
"The kids have really taken to watching film. They watch together as a unit. You could see them walking around the lunchroom on their phones and stuff, showing each other different things. At first, you thought they were (using Snapchat), but you find out that they're watching Hudl and watching film together."
The Rockets were in control from the opening kickoff, scoring touchdowns on each of their first two possessions, both on passes from Ben Veihl to Tayte Vanderleest. From there, sophomore running back Brody Johnson took over, breaking off several big runs, even if a couple of them were called back by penalties.
Immediately after Veihl converted a fourth-and-1 on a quarterback sneak on the Rockets' fourth possession, Johnson burst to the outside and ran in a 44-yard score to put R-P ahead 20-0. After Veihl led an impressive last-minute scoring drive to end the first half, hitting Alex Johnson for a 23-yard score, the Rockets led 26-6 and were never threatened again.
"I just come out and do my job," Brody Johnson said. "It's really all up to my linemen. I gotta trust them and I respect them, because they're the ones putting in the work for me down in the trenches and getting me the space open to be able to run."
Johnson, who went for over 200 yards in the team's week two win over St. Johns and found paydirt three times Friday, found a lot of his open space courtesy of star lineman Marco Fields, whose matchup the Rockets repeatedly targeted until calling off the dogs late in the third quarter.
But true to the maturity theme of the week, what impressed Bird most is what he heard from Johnson after his work was done for the night.
"He and I got a chance to talk at the end of the game, and he was like, 'There's a whole lot of season left to be played. We have to keep our focus,'" Bird said. "For a 15-year-old kid to be able to figure that out, in 10th grade, is pretty special."
Johnson said he wasn't expecting a big role this year due to his being a sophomore, but an off-season of work in the weight room has delivered him the opportunity that he's now taking full advantage of.
That focus and hard work will be as important as ever as R-P enters a three-game gauntlet that might be its toughest of the season. The Rockets will take on both Zeeland schools in the next two weeks, then face rival Mona Shores, the defending Division 2 state champions, the week after that.
"It's all the maturity," Bird said. "It's how we approach that. I think week one (against Grand Haven) was really the experience of not being in a big game to that extent, when you're in a tight ballgame where we made the mistakes. Week two (against St. Johns), we were starting to improve from that, and in week three, you can see the improvement and that they're really coming together. That confidence is definitely there. We know there's big football in front of us the next few weeks."