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August 23, 2004

Valley District Preview: Rockbridge County

2004 Valley District Football
Pre-Season Picks, Puzzles, and Pokes
by DetCord
 

     The Valley District has always been unpredictable and this year seems to be no different.  For the next few weeks, I’m going to try and take a look at each of the teams, with what little I know about them, and see if I can come up with a reasonable look at how they stack up this early.  Hopefully, I’ll get a couple done every week and I’m looking forward to your comments and observations on these either before or after I post the pick.  I’ll keep this cumulative, working last to first, so you don’t have to flip back and forth each week.
     Gee, you think you could now guess who number 1 is?
     As always, I’m at vafootball2002@yahoo.com
 

  Pre-Season
Valley District Standing

     1.  ?
     2.  Rockbridge Co.
     3.  Broadway
     4.  Waynesboro
     5.  Turner Ashby
     6.  Fort Defiance
     7.  Robert E. Lee
     8.  Stuarts Draft
     9.  Spotswood

 

 

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2.  Rockbridge Co.
Division 3, Wildcats, Coach Billy Mills
VHSL Enrollment:  1,058
2003: 6-4, 4-4 (Overall, District)
2003 Final VHSL Rating: 16.9
2003 Final Gilliam Rating: 60.19

Players to Watch:
  DE Aaron Clark, RB Cardell Rosser, LB William Ware

If you’re Coach Billy Mills, you really have to like the way the planets are lined up in the Valley District this year.  The Wildcats return just about every skill player they had from last year and bring back at least seven starters on both sides of the ball.  I’d also say they have potentially the most explosive offensive backfield of any team in the Valley.  Add to this a defense that only gave up 14.1 points per game last year, one definite and one potential D-1 candidate, as well as the absence of pressure as a preseason number one and he’s gotta like what he sees.  Rockbridge has had a winning season every year they’ve been in the Valley District and few expect this year to be an exception.  If Coach Mills has anything to worry about, he’s probably losing a little sleep over the graduation of nearly the entire offensive line (two were All-State and one was Defensive Player of the Year) and all but one of his defensive front four.  As bad as that sounds, I remember some injuries that kept some of those guys out last year so some of this year’s starters probably saw some action in mid-season.  Regardless, none of these guys has anywhere near the size of the graduating seniors so the lines are likely to be much smaller than the Rockbridge behemoths we’ve been used to seeing up front.  What does that mean for an overall strategy?  Probably not much.  As one of only two returning quarterbacks in the District, junior Chase Prasnicki (6’2, 220) will be the starter after a decent sophomore year that had him as the team’s second leading rusher (602 yards) and pass for over 770.  He’ll probably want to forget the district-leading 10 interceptions and chalk it up to “youthful indiscretions.”  No biggie, they don’t throw that much anyway—or is that about to change too?  Returning to try for a third consecutive 1,000+ yard rushing year is senior All District running back Cardell Rosser (5’9, 170) who led the district in carries last year (246) during his 1,161 yard season and is a dangerous kick return threat.  A super senior season could propel Rosser into a college career as many are watching and waiting.  Unknown to many were Rosser’s receiving skills as well and the early word is that we can expect to see him on the end of a Prasnicki pass more this year.  Joining him in the backfield will be hard running William “Pookie” Ware (5’9, 230) who only netted 132 yards last year on 42 carries but logged 9 TDs.  A touchdown on every fifth carry?  Guess who’s got the ball on short yardage?  The lone returning lineman is center Alex Wade (5’9, 240) with likely guards being junior Trey Mahood (6’0, 205) and senior Colin Richardson (5’11, 185) with junior Chris Leach (6'2, 230) probably locking down the right tackle slot.  Possible others along the line could be junior Connor Graves (6’225) and seniors Miles Watts (5’10,230) and Brandon Ramsey (6’2,235).  I’m guessing the lack of size across the front means less Rosser between the tackles and a lot more trap and dive plays using the QB.  The Cats have a very good returning receiver in senior Brian Sandridge (5’10, 180).  The TE slot likely remains in the hands of a very capable Aaron Clark (6’6, 225) who was All District/Region/State at defensive end and has already committed to play at the University of Virginia in that position.  The 4-3 defense also has a graduation problem along the front line.  Clark is the only known quantity returning at DE with few, if any, others having significant playing time there to step up.  One possibility might be senior Nick Donald (5’7,170).  The linebackers look to be the most solid part of the defense with Ware, who was All District in this position last year, returning to anchor an experienced group.  Joining him will be Sandridge and sophomore Patrick Bannon (6’3, 205) with junior Jason Campbell (5’11, 190) expected to open at one of the OLB spots .  Between the three they accounted for 216 tackles last year.  Expect Leach at nose tackle when they use the five man front.  The corners will again be Rosser and senior John Beverly (6’0, 150) who is every QB’s worst nightmare and is piling up a slew of interceptions in Lexington.  The inexperience also hits Rockbridge in the safety positions with fresh faces appearing there as well.  We’ll likely see sophomore Patrick Creer (5’9, 170) there who saw significant time there as a freshman.  All are fast but there’s a lot to said for game time under the belt.  Another mystery for the Mills magic to solve is the replacement for kicker Matt Novack who was one of the Valley’s best last year and as steady as they came.  When you add all of this up and look at it from every angle, you have to see a team that just needs to keep focused and play steady to make it into post-season play.  Does it make their 6-4 record last year sound any better if you realize their four losses were by a TD or less?  Hmmmm, let’s see; (1) good team, (2) return many, (3) experienced skill players, (4) lose a little size and experience on the lines, but…sounds like a team poised for the playoffs.  They open the earliest of all Valley teams hosting Greenbrier East in Lexington on August 27th.  Attendance should be good as most of the Valley players are likely to take a road trip.  Their opening district game will be at home against Fort Defiance two weeks later.  With everything they have returning, the Wildcats are certainly my favorites for a slot in the Division 3 playoffs and certainly deserve to be this high in the preseason look.
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3.  Broadway
Division 3, Fighting Gobblers, Coach Reed Prosser
VHSL Enrollment:  998
2003: 6-4, 5-3 (Overall, District)
2003 Final VHSL Rating: 19.0
2003 Final Gilliam Rating: 57.90

Players to Watch:  RB John Jacobs, WR Blake Wenger, OL/DL Alan Burkett

Fear the Turkey!  Well, maybe it isn’t as catchy as I thought at first.  Nonetheless, the Broadway Gobblers are probably the hungriest of the teams in the lineup this year and, despite losing a key back to transfer and five other All District players, still have enough left to challenge for the District title.  Coach Reed Prosser opens his second year as head coach.  He found out a lot about his players and played a bunch of younger guys last year that will really help him this year.  Broadway only had nine seniors on the roster in 2003 so nearly everyone on both sides of the ball will be returning.  But this group of seniors is the same bunch that led their freshman team to a 9-0 season and they’re convinced they can do it again.  Last year’s results were frustrating but they can also point to the best defense in the District as well sharing that title with Fort Defiance as they both held opponents to only 13.8 points per game.   Oh yeah, did I mention they do offense too?  Clearly the most potent offensive weapon in the Valley District this year is senior running back John Jacobs (6’3, 220) who has logged over 2,500 yards rushing with his 4.6 speed in the last two years, catches the ball well out of the backfield, and already has offers from Marshall and JMU going into this season.  His skills on defense have also been noteworthy and I expect to see him move from linebacker to possibly the safety position this year after David Guyer’s graduation.  The transfer of RB/LB Damian Organ is a real setback for the Gobblers but they all wish him well…except when they play Turner Ashby on Oct 29th (his new team).  Anyone thinking that Jacobs is all that’s left at Broadway needs to find and remember junior Seth Hardesty (5’11, 200) next to Jacobs in the backfield. His 4.7 speed will be enough to keep defenses honest this year because I truly believe Broadway will open things up a bit and not rely so much on the offensive line which has lost a lot of size.  My guess at QB is junior Matt Ropp although senior Chris Herndon could also get the call.  Both are competent ball handlers and they’ll have several experienced targets to choose from in the passing game.  Broadway throwing the ball?  You betcha!  From what I hear, senior Preston Cupp (6’1, 190) returns to the TE slot.  Two of the top three Gobbler receivers from 2003 also return with seniors Blake Wenger and Cody Arbogast (5’11, 180) rotating at WR and/or flanker slots.  Wenger’s 18.3 yards per catch on 13 receptions last year was certainly noteworthy and make him someone to watch this year.  Anchoring the O-line and replacing two-time All District center Grant Holsinger will likely be junior Trent Grimes.  The line around him is relatively small in relation to previous Broadway lines but all are quick and have a lot of playing time.  Seniors Daniel Wylie (5’11, 225) and A.J. Caplinger (5’10, 205) return to the guard slots and will be out in front of numerous sweep and trap plays.  I’d also expect to see junior Jon McDorman and sophomore phenom Allen Burkett who got a boatload of playing time last year as a freshman and is already the strongest player on the team.  The defense is going to have to have a repeat of last year’s performance if Broadway is going to stay in the top three.  Losing Anderson, Guyer, Sutton and Tran is not easy to just reload with but the good news is that Caplinger, Hardesty and Burkett all return across the line, possibly joined by Daniel Pultz at NT, and Arbogast, Herndon, and Jacobs provide some experience and sure tackling in the secondary.  If Broadway has an Achilles heel that needs developing, it looks to be at the linebacker spots.  Losing Organ here may mean some shuffling and some inexperienced new faces.  They open with Potomac Falls on September 3rd so this question needs to be answered quickly.  Also, if you’ll note the same names on offense and defense above you can quickly see another Broadway problem—depth!  The Gobblers need to get ahead and stay ahead if the starters are going to get any break at all.  Unless some younger guys come up off the bench to do a good job (or the roster magically expands by 15 players), this will really begin to take it’s toll late in the season when every game matters even more than before.  Their 29-28 comeback victory over R.E. Lee last year told me everything I need to know about Prosser-coached teams so don’t underestimate anything the Gobblers are capable of doing and, yes, Fear the Turkey!
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4.  Waynesboro
Division 3, Little Giants, Coach Danny Dorton
VHSL Enrollment:  812
2003: 3-7, 3-5 (Overall, District)
2003 Final VHSL Rating: 15.4
2003 Final Gilliam Rating: 41.59

Players to Watch:
  DE Stanley Barbour, DB Jamar Bowie, NT Jordan Purvis 

What?  Waynesboro at #4?  I can see the smirk on most of the Valley players faces already—but not the smart ones and not the coaches.  They remember two of those wins last year were against Fort Defiance and Rockbridge!  Maybe they are somewhat of a “Cinderalla” pick here, but it isn’t without merit.  The Waynesboro Little Giants have struggled recently for a variety of reasons but the biggest is probably consistency.  They’ve had a handful of very talented athletes every year and have been better than their 6-24 record in the last three years indicates.  Although the coaches certainly remember, few of the players remember that Waynesboro was playing in the Region II finals against Handley just six short years ago.  I honestly believe this year’s team with four returning All District players, has the potential to get them right back into the Valley race in a big way.  Former varsity assistant coach Danny Dorton is Waynesboro’s new Head Coach after Coach Don Rice moved on to take the head coaching position at Jefferson Forest.  The two teams will actually meet on September 10th giving us a look at whether or not the pupil can outfox the teacher.  The Valley family will miss Coach Rice and we wish him the best—except against Valley teams, of course.  Dorton’s a Powell Valley graduate that understands hard-nosed football so it won’t take him long to Waynesboro into a competitive mode.  He’s got a great start with this year’s team and Waynesboro’s best shot at a winning record in many years.  If simply facing the Valley teams weren’t enough, Waynesboro also has out-of-district foes Western Albemarle and Jefferson Forest to contend with giving them the toughest schedule in Region II according to Matt Gilliam’s recent preseason strength of schedule analysis.  After opening their season with those two, they then take on Broadway and Fort Defiance so they have their work cut out for them right out of the box.  Offensively, I share the share the view of some that they’d be way more effective by scrapping the spread and running more out of the I formation.  However, given that they’ll once again try to exploit the talents of All District senior QB Jamar Bowie (5’6, 160), I doubt we’ll see much action between the tackles from Waynesboro.  Bowie had roughly 950 yards rushing and over 800 passing as a junior last year.  I know this only anecdotally since Waynesboro’s staff has been awful about releasing game stats for public consumption.  Coach Dorton, if you change nothing else, please find a way to send the Daily News-Record a weekly update like every other coach in the Valley, O.K.?  These aren’t top secret numbers and surely 45 sets of player parents in Waynesboro would appreciate it too?  Maybe you do deal with the Staunton News-Leader but those guys are really pitiful in comparison.  OK, fit all over.  Bowie’s once again got the big bulls eye on his back but has plenty of returning experience coming back to spread the offensive load this year.  They were held scoreless in their first three games last year and managed only 11.7 points per game all year.  That HAS to change.  Big Dallas Brooks has graduated but I’d expect to see All District speedster junior Travis Berry (5’7, 150) as one back and returning sophomore Steve Simms (5’10, 230) at the power back position who started last year as a freshman.  Bowie’s favorite aerial target, Barry West, moved to Richmond so expect to see Trevor Richards (6’3, 225) making his debut in the purple and gold at TE.  Look for seniors Dale Blair (5’9, 150) and Jamel Goodwin (5’9, 150) to also be WRs in a more pass-happy Little Giant offense that will try to open the field to Bowie’s talent for finding an open receiver or killing an offense with his scrambling. The offensive line loses some good players but returning All District senior Jordan Purvis (6’0, 270) and sophomore Ryan Wharam (5’11, 235) bring some stability back.  Defensively the Little Giants have some work to do too.  Giving up well over three TDs a game last year made it hard on their less-than-potent offense.  This year they bring back about eight of their starters and they still look to be solid on the lines but maybe a bit softer in the secondary.  I’d like to see Purvis at NT with both All District senior Stanley Barbour (6’4, 230) at one tackle and sophomore Jeremy Sweet (5’10, 242) at either the other or (more likely) at Center.  Linebackers are plentiful but they need to find the right combo to be really effective.  We’ll probably see Barry West at one in their 5-2 but the other is up for grabs.  I’m guessing senior Jamie Brown (5’10, 206) gets the start.  Youngsters junior Jon Coleman (5’10, 195) and sophomore Steve Simms (5’10, 230) got a lot of playing time there last year so look for them at OLB and MLB respectively.  The secondary will feature senior Troy Vest (5’7, 150) at one DB with Blair at the other corner.  Junior Marquell Diggs (5’5, 140) will probably be roaming there as well with Berry holding down the free safety slot.  I’d also have to add that, from a special teams standpoint, Travis Berry is the pre-season pick for most dangerous kick-returner as well.  We’ll see what he does early on but after last year’s stellar performance there, he may get lonely for a while watching kicks go away from him.  Like I said, the Waynesboro problem has been consistency and I think there’s enough talent and experience coming back this year to finally bring some stability to performance on the field and will likely do better with some stability in strategy from the sidelines.   I may be totally off base by putting them this high in preseason but I like what I see and I really do think they have a shot.  Now all they have to do is convince themselves.  Their first game is the chance to start big with a home opener against Western Albemarle September 3rd that lost a bunch.  If the defense can tighten up and the offense isn’t “All Bowie,” they have a genuine chance at a winning season and a run at the District title.  This should get interesting.
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5.  Turner Ashby
Division 4, Knights, Coach Charlie Newman
VHSL Enrollment:  1,109
2003: 6-4, 5-3 (Overall, District)
2003 Final VHSL Rating: 18.1
2003 Final Gilliam Rating: 54.40

Players to Watch:  DT Mike Stover, RB Damian Organ, OL Dusty Rexrode 

The Turner Ashby Knights have been one of the strongest teams in the Valley District year in and year out over the last few years.  Last year Coach Charlie Newman took the reigns after being an assistant at TA for some time and, as all expected, didn’t miss a beat by putting together a winning season his first time out.  The 2004 team that returns probably isn’t his most talented but they will be playing with close to 30 seniors who have been with each other for a long time.  Offensively, TA losses in skill positions are eased only with some experience on the lines.  Last year’s rushing trio of Mike Snader, David Pomm and Jeremy Hart scooted their way to just under 2,200 rushing yards between them in a balanced performance that kept defenses guessing “who had the ball?” all year.  They’re gone and the rushing duties now fall to...er, well, I’m not sure?  All but certain is the rumor that senior Damian Organ (5’11, 190) who played for Broadway High School last year has transferred and will more than likely find a lot of playing time in the Knight backfield.  Damian got everyone’s attention as a sophomore at Broadway rushing for 812 yards in 2002 behind teammate John Jacobs who notched 1,551 as a sophomore.  The arrival of a new coach at Broadway changed the running scheme and Damian managed only 382 yards in 2003 but did show his athleticism making the All District team as a linebacker.  TA is surely glad to see him coming in any capacity given their shortages this coming year.  They’ve also had a QB problem that may or may not have been solved.  Junior Seth Little (5’8, 153) added an extra dimension to the TA offense with his running ability until he had to leave the team for unspecified reasons.  He is said to be returning this year and will give the Knights some experience where they badly need it.  The Knights don’t typically throw the ball and when they do it’s a low risk situation.  They rushed an average of 44 plays per game last year and only completed 3 passes a game all year.  Junior Charlie Newman (5’11, 193) came in at TE on double TE plays in 2003 so I’d expect to see him replacing the graduated Ryan Nolley at that position.  We should also see junior Daniel Harvey (5’11, 153) at WR who was pretty much silent last year and used mostly as a blocker.  Maybe an experienced line will allow TA to open it up a bit?  Any time you return three or more starters across a line, you’re in good shape.  The Knights return All District seniors Dusty Rexrode (5’11, 154) and T.J. Burkholder (6’1, 250) along with seniors Craig Morris (5’11, 154) and Ray Haas (6’2, 227).  The defense is much more problematic.  Anchoring the front line are Burkholder and Rexrode with All-District seniors Alex Stover (6’3, 184) returning at DE and T.J. Kisamore (5’10, 211) likely returning at nose tackle.  Having finished strong last season on the DL, I’d also expect to see senior Michael Stover (6’1, 261) on the defensive line giving them some badly needed size.  Newman is the only returning linebacker and Harvey steps back in at free safety.  This secondary will definitely have some new faces this year and will be tested early at home on September 3 against a Stone Bridge team that walloped the Knights 63-14 last year in a game that saw Michael O’Brien rip TA’s experienced secondary for 188 yards passing in just the first half in Coach Newman’s first game at the helm. If TA (1) can find a reliable QB and (2) Organ manages a decent 700-800 yard or better rushing season, and (3) the defensive secondary doesn’t collapse picking up the slack from inexperienced LB’s (Organ here too?), then the Knights may actually finish a lot higher than I expect.  That’s a lot to put together but they seem to manage to find a way to win key games every year.  Even the TA faithful are low-balling expectations for this year’s team but I think it has a pretty decent chance of post-season play with the right breaks.  One thing is certain, they sure do manage to keep their Valley District opponents fired up and looking forward to their shot at TA more than any other game of the year so none of it will be easy.
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6.  Fort Defiance
Division 3, Indians, Coach Dale Spitzer
VHSL Enrollment:  894
2003: 8-4, 6-2 (Overall, District) – Region II (Div 3) Playoffs
2003 Final VHSL Rating: 20.7
2003 Final Gilliam Rating: 68.13

Players To Watch
:  LB Jeff Griffin, DB Matt Wilson, DL Tom Milstead 

All right, I’m a slow learner.  For two years I’ve been underestimating the Fort Defiance Indians and for two years they’ve made me look goofy getting into post-season play in both years.  Third time’s the charm?  As much as I really want to say “I’m now a believer!,” I just can’t find enough reason to get the Indians any higher than mid-pack as we look at the coming 2004 season.  Then again, there’s not a coach in the Valley that would underestimate any Dale Spitzer coached team.  That said, they still lose enough to lead me to this conclusion but retain enough to make me think I’m about to get egg on my face three years in a row.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen a QB other than Drew Spitzer behind the center and his graduation now provides a chance for All District senior Matt Wilson (6’0, 170) to possibly show what he has there after limited snaps as the backup last year.  Do they still use him in the secondary?  Probably, he’s just a great athlete and they’re not that deep.  He only got 26 carries last year but had a respectable 6.3 yards a carry to show for them.  The backfield from last year that caught fire late and got them to the Regional playoffs is gone.  Both Riley Cox and Matt Sorrels were the leading ground gainers and leading receivers…for what that’s worth.  Fort just doesn’t throw much and prefers to stuff it down your throat. Cox, Sorrels and Wilson caught less than 50 passes between them last year and only five of those went for TDs.  Returning in the backfield to get things going for the Indians is All District senior Jeff Griffin (5’10, 220) who piled up 369 tough yards (4.2 ypc) from his fullback position.  He’ll likely be joined by juniors J.T. Price (5’8, 145) and C.J. Taylor (5’6, 165).  If Fort chose to expand their aerial capabilities, they have three experienced and good-sized senior receivers who are probably tired of just blocking and running wind sprints in Shaine Welcher (6’2, 190) at WR,  TE Trae Livick (6’3, 185), and WR Michael Hahn (6’1, 160). Senior center Jesse Wolfe (5’10, 235) anchors an offensive line decimated by graduation losing some very good linemen in Jeremiah Jefferson, Nick Fawley and Blake Lucas.  Junior guard Zach Schindler (6’3, 240) should return at one guard spot.  The “Vulture Defense” that only allowed 13.8 points per game last year, doesn’t lose much and should remain one of the best in the Valley.  That number included two shutouts and two 6-point games and would have been even more impressive if not for Harrisonburg’s 48 points against them in their triple overtime loss to the Streaks.  The capable linebacking corps of Griffin and senior Brian Noland (5’11, 170) returns as well as the corners of Taylor and junior Jason Lambert (5’10, 140).  Losing Sorrels and Cox in the secondary are critical slots to replace and I wouldn't doubt that we see the new guys tested early and often.  Seniors Shawn Talley (5’10, 215) and Eddie Summers (5’8, 170), as well as junior Tom Milstead (5’10, 265), return to their aggressive positions on the defensive front line.  Junior Stephen Hahn (6’1, 160) may also join them at the DE slot vacated by graduating All District player Brandon Tyler.  Another loss for the Indians was All District kicker Tyler Urgo who was their fourth leading scorer and put up a District-high six FGs.  Overall, the Indians lose some size and a “featured” running back is really missing from the equation.  Of course, nobody outside Verona saw Riley Cox coming last year either.  Add the uncertainty of the QB slot, inexperience in the secondary, just over a dozen juniors on the roster creating a depth problem and that’s how the logic stacks up.  The second highest scoring offense also lost 90% of the scoring to graduation.  The sound defense is the reason I’d have to say that if I’ve placed ANY team on this list too low, it’s probably this team.  Their home opener against a recently struggling, but once powerful, Park View (Sterling) team on September 3rd should be an eye-opener for everyone.  Are they still the hardest hitting team in the Valley District?  I always thought so but let's see if these guys can keep that tradition going.
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7.  Robert E. Lee
Division 3, Fighting Leemen, Coach David Tibbs
VHSL Enrollment:  791
2003: 3-7, 3-5 (Overall, District)
2003 Final VHSL Rating: 14.2
2003 Final Gilliam Rating: 49.05

Players to Watch: RB Hosea Berkley, WR Eli Crawford, DE J.R. Ware

Just ask Coach David Tibbs what the difference is between a 3-7 season and a 6-4 season and he’ll likely grimace and answer “three points.”  After losing three heartbreaking games last year by one point each, it has to have made an impression on this large group of juniors that now dominate the Lee roster.  Though they have relatively few seniors in this class, the starters have been with each other long enough to know what it’s going to take.  Their problem is (and has been) finally getting the many Staunton athletes always on the field to work as a team.  Lee’s biggest enemy has always been….well, themselves.  Predictability was also Lee’s problem last year.  Almost all of the offensive production came from three players now graduated (Huggard, Shepherd & Crawford) and the defense is going to really miss their speed and experience.  Junior Jeremiah Brown (5’9, 140) is likely to inherit the QB slot from graduated All-State player Evan Huggard, now Lenoir-Rhyne bound and an excellent all-around athlete.  An interesting player to watch will be junior Eli Crawford (6’0, 170) who has made a name for himself in Valley athletics on the basketball court who is expected to replace last year’s speedster and leading receiver Jonathan Crawford (no relation).  I would also think Lee would come up with all kinds of creative ways to get his hands on the ball.  Another visible receiver will be junior Lawrence Lightfoot (6’3, 175) who, along with junior L.D. Randolph (5’9, 150) should give Brown a decent stable of targets. The TE will either be junior J.R. Ware (6’4, 205) or three-year starter junior Chris Cary (6’3, 200). (Running the ball for the Leemen will probably be junior Hosea Berkley (6’1, 190) and joined by sophomore Shay Nicholson (5’10, 175) who actually got some playing time last year as a freshmen.  The offensive line is likely to have junior Brandon Piner (5-11 240) at center with senior Evan Alestock (6-1 290) returning at either a guard or tackle along with junior Orlando Jenkins (6-1 260) and senior Quentin Brent (5-10 270).  Though they lost a little size with the graduation of the Granato brothers, it is expected that Jonathan Seekford (6’4, 340) may return after an absence to help on both sides of the ball.  I’d also look for Brian Moubray (6-0 250) along the line somewhere.  Defensively, the Leemen had problems surrendering 25.7 points per game.  If they can focus on winning the line of scrimmage this year, instead of playing prevent in secondary, this may drop dramatically.  The defensive secondary looks decent considering what graduated.  They’ll be tested early when they open with Alleghany and face highly recruited wide receiver Bosco Williams who was a key part of their home opening one point loss last year.  Randolph and Crawford will be at the corners with Lightfoot likely moving into the safety position.  The Linebackers return senior Chandel Fitch (5’8, 160) with Piner moving into the other ILB slot.  The two tackles are probably Alestock and Seekford with Ware and Carey at the defensive end slots.  Although there’s enough speed and ability here to win their share of games, I’m not sure the experience is there to make it happen in large numbers.  An upset or two is easily a possibility with these guys.  But next year is definitely going to see this group make their move.  This year they have all the tools but putting them together and getting a few breaks is going to be the difference between a winning and losing season for them.  Either way, they’re still always one of the fastest teams in the Valley an always fun to watch.
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8. Stuarts Draft
Division 3, Cougars, Coach Jake Gray
VHSL Enrollment:  746
2003: 3-7, 2-6 (Overall, District)
2003 Final VHSL Rating: 13.5
2003 Final Gilliam Rating 35.41


Players to Watch:
DB Brett Zirkle, TE Jon Stepp, LB Derrick McGown 

I know I’ve said it before but it still holds true today.  I really like to watch Stuarts Draft play football.  They’re rarely the bigger or faster of the teams on the field but what they are is a group of well coached kids from a small school that just clearly and obviously love the game of football.  What’s also obvious is that they don’t care who you are and they’re never intimidated.  Watch the expressions on their faces in the fourth quarter and you’d swear it was the opening kickoff.  They just keep coming at you. Tragedy struck the Cougar family when a fire destroyed their field house last March.  They lost their locker rooms, weight rooms, showers coaches offices and decades worth of priceless memories.  Rebuilding is underway but this was a sad day for the entire Valley District family.   Coach Jake Gray takes over this year from Tom Goforth who recently moved up to be the Stuarts Draft AD and who is obviously a glutton for punishment (just kiddin' Tom).  Coach Gray is the former defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.  The players know him well and he's done a terrific job with these young athletes year after year.  Although they’re having some difficulties pulling a winning season in the tough Valley District, they’ve got tremendous fan support and enthusiasm.  Last year’s offense was centered around the athleticism of now graduated Josh Rowzie with most others being in a secondary capacity.  He was their leading rusher with nearly 600 yards and almost 7.0 yards per carry.  This year we clearly expect to see a lot more balance in the Stuarts Draft attack and a lot less predictability.  The Cougars will do this to take advantage of this year’s team and to look for the key to producing more than last year’s 16.4 points per game.  Their record of 3-7 looks worse than it actually was.  The 13-15 overtime loss to perennial powerhouse Riverheads was clearly disheartening and the 36 points scored against R.E. Lee was more than enough to win had not the defense collapsed and surrendered 44 to the Leemen.  A 5-5 season was in reach.  This year, a good-sized group of juniors from last year rise to meet these challenges as seniors and turn things around for their fans and supporters.  Returning All District defensive back senior Brett Zirkle (6’3, 175) looks to step into the quarterback position vacated by Josh Rowzie on graduation.  He’ll also be a formidable runner in the many QB keeper plays which are a Cougar favorite.  Although there’s a new pair of hands under center, the Cougars have the luxury of returning nearly the entire backfield.  One of the better power runners in the district, senior Derrick McGown (6’0, 193), returns to the TB slot to improve upon his 388 yards in 2003.  He’s got decent hands too so getting him the ball out of the backfield will undoubtedly be a new play in the Draft arsenal this year.  Joining him will likely be junior Tony Glass (6’0, 186) who added 233 in a secondary role.  Both averaged around 4.5 yards per carry.  Junior flanker Jamie Lipscomb (5’10, 180) will round out the backfield.  Though he was used more as a blocking tight end last year, look for senior TE Jon Stepp (6’2, 190) to get his hands on the ball more as a receiver.  He hauled in 7 catches last year for 110 yards and three TDs averaging a respectable 15.7 yards per catch. With the graduation of Toms, Clawson, and Waksmunski, the offensive lines have some serious holes to fill.  Making that task somewhat easier is the return of senior guard Chris Campbell (5’9, 214) and senior tackle T.C. Wilcoxen (6’3, 250) who will look to open bigger holes for their talented backfield.  The defense for Draft looks to be young but the linebacking corps is a very good one with plenty of playing time between them.  Stepp, McGown and senior Donald Deeds (5’10, 161) are all expected to return across the back four.  Campbell is also the only returner on the defensive front line in the Cougar 4-4 defense although senior Justin Stephenson (6’2, 195) got plenty of time last year and will likely be there full time this year.  While an experienced Zirkle is likely to also return to anchor the defensive secondary, replacing Brown and Waksmunski on the corners is a preseason priority.  This defense gave up more points per game than anyone in the Valley last year (27.4) so finding the key to success for the Cougars may be in doing a better job of keeping the other guy out of the end zone. This team deserves way more respect than they're usually given and I expect a few surprises out of them this year.  I don’t really care what the scoreboard says, I just love to watch them play.
(Top)

9.  Spotswood
Division 4, Trailblazers, Coach Toby Peer
VHSL Enrollment:  1,177
2003: 0-10, 0-8 (Overall, District)
2003 Final VHSL Rating: 10.6
2003 Final Gilliam Rating 31.02

Players To Watch:     OL David Tlaxacala, WR Chet Landes, LB Arkady Kurihine  

Is it possible for things to actually get worse than an 0-10 season?  Maybe.  You have to be an eternal optimist to look at Spotswood and see more than another rebuilding year.  Just two years ago, they challenged for the Region II title.  Last year, Coach Toby Peer arrived on the scene to take over a team decimated by graduation, fighting a morale problem, looking at a new style of offense, and struggling to get athletes on the field.  A lot has needed to be done to get the Trailblazers rebuilt and their home opener September 3rd against an unpredictable Courtland team should tell us a lot.  Last year was a forgettable year but still had some highlights.  The new Florida-style “Peer offense” was in its infancy as QB Richard Glick led the Valley in pass attempts (210) and completions (107) nearly double of any other QB.  His primary receiver, returning All District junior Chet Landes (5’7, 155), had more receptions (41) than anyone in the Valley.  The biggest receiving threat, graduated All District speedster Cam Masters, was third in the District in receiving yards but pretty much shut down and limited to less than three catches per game.  Why 0-10 then?  Man does not live by pass alone.  The 11.0 yards per reception was one of the lowest in the district for the QB and the 9.4 yards per reception for Landes (14.9 for Masters) was also the lowest for any of the primary receivers who were all averaging 15-23 yards per catch.  What was missing (and still may be) is a ground game that takes the pressure off the QB.  When your QB is your leading ground gainer and only gets 259 yards all year (and at 2.3 yards per carry) then something is clearly missing.  Ben Rexrode was the FB last year and only managed 47 carries in the pass-oriented offense.  With him gone, short yardage carriers are much less certain with junior Dyche Dean (6’1, 183) being the only returning back with any size.  Junior back Matt Paulette (5’8, 170) will also return this year in the Spotswood backfield to help get something going on the ground.  His 258 yards on 86 carries last season also produced only about three yards a carry and points to Coach Peer’s key challenge—building an offensive line that can both protect the quarterback and support a credible ground threat.  Returning this year to anchor that line will be senior David Tlaxacala (6’2, 250) and junior Sean Taylor (5’10, 215).  Replacing 4 of 6 linemen is never easy but the two good-sized Valencia brothers transferring from Harrisonburg may help this out.  Replacing two senior QBs (Glick and Jarmin) is also going to be interesting.  Regardless of the magic needed here, Coach Peer needs to find a combination that will do better than a District low 10.6 points a game for his offense.  The defense looks a little brighter although the losses here also seem nearly insurmountable in one year.  Giving up over 26 points per game is putting way too much pressure on the offense.  The mid-season meltdown, partially injury driven, needs to be avoided as well.  The “D” only allowed a manageable16.4 points per game in the first five games but collapsed in the last half surrendering an astonishing 36 points per game in the last five.  Filling the gap left by talented All-State linebacker David Isenhart is the easy one to predict.  A very capable senior Arkady Kurihine (6’1, 185) moves over from his OLB position.  Replacing Masters at free safety is also likely to be senior Derek Wimer (5’11, 165) moving back from his corner position last year.  Paulette will also likely do double duty again at linebacker.  The defensive line, however return only two starters in juniors Jared Sheets (6’0, 185) and Billy Fetterolf (5’9, 207).  Size here, as well as on the offensive line, will again plague Coach Peer.  Maybe the real Trailblazer mystery is “where are all the football players?”  Coach Peer certainly has a big enough Division 4 school to produce a talented and competitive roster of players but needs to do a little recruiting and PR work to convince some of those great Spotswood athletes we’ve seen in other sports to play football.  Hopefully we’ll see signs that things are turning around in Penn Laird and that the Trailblazers will, once again, be returning to the top of the Valley standings.  This year, however, it’s just a perfect time and setting for someone to become a hero and rescue the Blazers from another dismal season.
(Top)

 

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Kind of a disclaimer:  I’d be the first one to admit less-than-perfect knowledge.  If I’ve totally whacked out on something, please let me know and I'll fix it.  (Ain't electrons great?) Unless otherwise indicated, all the heights and weights are from last year's rosters.  The views and opinions expressed here, as twisted and comical as they may be, are mine and mine alone and do not necessarily represent those of VirginiaPreps.com or any of the sensible people associated with it.  To the tall, red-headed ref at the Broadway game last year; about that taillight...it was an accident, honest



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