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Roosevelt ready for move up to Conference III

Roosevelt's Stephan Vailes runs the ball on a

Roosevelt's Stephan Vailes runs the ball on a keep during the Nassau IV football final on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014 at Hofstra. Photo Credit: James Escher

Roosevelt head coach Joe Vito isn't afraid to admit this upcoming season is going to be a tough one.

He knows there are no breaks in the schedule after a move from Nassau Conference IV to Conference III. The difficult matchups begin in Week 1 when the Rough Riders play Lawrence, a team with a 20-game winning streak.

"It's a baptism by fire," Vito said during Friday's preseason camp.

Still, he and his players are confident. Senior Elishah Willock, a returning starter on the offensive line, said Lawrence and Conference III do not intimidate him. He admitted he has been hoping for this jump for a long time.

"I've always wanted to move up in conference to show other guys that Conference IV is not at the bottom of the pile," he said. "There are going to be obstacles, but we're ready for it."

Much of the confidence around camp stems from new running back Jude Innocent, a senior who transferred from Brentwood.

The Rough Riders have had 2,000-yard rushers in back-to-back seasons. Innocent could be the third straight given his quick first step, shifty cuts and on-field intelligence, but Vito stressed that his team plans to open up the offense.

"I think we have other weapons," Vito said. "I'm hoping you don't just look at Roosevelt and say, 'We're going to key in on that one guy and stop them.'"

At the same time, he recognizes Innocent's importance.

"He told me I'm going to play a really huge part in the offense," Innocent said about Vito's offensive strategy. "I'm going to be needed."

Willock even went so far as to say that Innocent will be "one of those we'll talk about years down the line [at Roosevelt]."

Innocent continually praised Willock and the offensive line on Friday, saying their size, technique and work ethic will allow him to find success out of the I-formation, his favorite.

But if Vito wants Roosevelt to be a more balanced offense, then second-year starting quarterback Stephan Vailes is the team's key to success.

The Rough Riders traditionally do not pass often. Vailes attempted just two passes - both of which went for touchdowns - in the Nassau Conference IV final last season. His responsibility will undoubtedly increase.

"[Vito] has been telling me we're going to pass more," Vailes said. "I'm ready."

Vito praised Vailes as someone who will be a major contributor. In a scheme that Vito said is simplified this season, it should be easier for the offense to move the ball.

While depth is a concern, Vito said his goal is to prove his team belongs.

"It's the unknown for us right now," Vito said. "Our goal is to be in the playoffs at the end, but anything can happen. We're excited for the new challenge. Hopefully we can surprise some people."

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