QUINCY -- Dalton Venvertloh remembers the frustration and exhaustion that comes with playing varsity football for Quincy Notre Dame as a sophomore.
"It was so hard," he said. "You have to learn so quickly. You're getting everything thrown at you, and you're tired. Football is 75 percent physical and 25 percent mental, so if your head isn't on right, you're not going to be any good."
So when play by the offensive scout team got a little ragged during the final minutes of Tuesday's practice, Venvertloh, now a senior, took it upon himself to take a few reps at running back.
"I'm just trying to give our defense a look," he said. "If our defense doesn't know what it's really going to be like in a game, they'll think it's going to be easy, and we'll get ran over."
Such is life on a team dominated by youth.
Sophomores Louie Pagliara, Tyler Bertram and Sam Hea hold down three starting positions on the offensive line. First-year coach Jack Cornell also is counting on quarterback Ike Wiley, wide receiver Grant Hyer and tight end Jack Marth to fill big offensive roles as sophomores.
Marth and Lake Bergman, another sophomore, are second and third on the team in tackles. Many of the sophomores are playing both ways, and a few freshmen are getting mixed in as well.
With just 11 juniors and seniors, the Raiders don't have many other options, but Cornell is excited about the future while not ignoring the present.
‘When I was a sophomore in 2004, I was surrounded by seniors who had played for a long time," Cornell said. "It's the other way around now. Our players are working as hard as they can, trying to soak it in. We're throwing a lot at them. We're treating them like they are seniors. We hope that it pays off."
In terms of wins and losses, it hasn't paid off yet. The Raiders lost 32-22 in the opener to Lexington, Mo., and 41-21 to Rock Island Alleman.
"You are what your record is," Cornell said. "We're aware of that."
Youthful mistakes have cost QND thus far.
Procedure penalties on fourth-and-1 forced the Raiders to punt on two first-half drives inside Alleman's 45-yard line. The Pioneers followed with touchdowns each time.
The Raiders had three drives stall inside Lexington's 10-yard line in the season opener.
"It's little things. We make critical errors in tight spots, whether it's coaches substituting or guys executing little things and understanding the situation we're at in the game," Cornell said. "It's the hallmark of a young team, the lack of situational awareness.
"We're young with a brand new staff. I'm not making excuses. We show the guys on tape the issues we have in a controlled, classroom setting, then we go on the field and walk through it. No one is hollering. We just want them to see where they're at. We have to do a better job of preparing for situations."
The seniors are doing their part as well.
"You have to put the younger guys under your wing and help them along," said Venvertloh, who has rushed for a team-high 158 yards and three touchdowns. "They don't know any better, and for some of them, it's the first year of football in their life. You have to teach them."
Patience is critical with a young team.
"We've seen progress. We want it to go faster," Cornell said.
Keeping it fun is part of the equation, too.
"This is a game that can be complicated by coaches putting too much pressure on guys, and I want to avoid that at all cost," Cornell said. "If we beat them down, we're focusing on the wrong thing. When bad things happen, I have no problem being the bad guy, but on the whole, we want people to see us have fun."
Some students have noticed. QND started preseason practices with 38 players, but 10 players since have joined the team.
"These kids are telling their buddies that the time is now. Come out and be a part of this thing," Cornell said. "That tells me we're doing the right thing."
Even though it doesn't show on the scoreboard yet.
"We're going to be really good," Venvertloh said. "I think we have better athletes this year than we did last year. As we get through the season, they'll get it."