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Those under center are central to narrative Our headliners entering this football season run the gamut. Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller and Virginia safety Quin Blanding. William and Mary running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor and Hampton University receiver Twarn Mixson. Old Dominion receiver Zach Pascal, Norfolk State linebacker Deon King and Apprentice School running back Joseph Hodge. Comrade Wood’s top David Teel 15 high school seniors in Virginia include five corners, two safeties, offensive tackles, defensive tackles and receivers, plus one linebacker and one tight end. One position is conspicuously absent: quarterback. Not that we’re bereft of talent and promise under center. Tech’s Michael Brewer, William and Mary’s Steve Cluley and Virginia’s Matt Johns showed flashes last season. Hampton High’s Jovonn Quillen has committed to the Hokies, though he may be ticketed for another position in college, while Lafayette’s Cheyton Pine has pledged to Pittsburgh, as a linebacker. Elsewhere in Virginia and the region: James Madison’s Vad Lee was a finalist for the 2014 Payton Award, the Championship Subdivision’s Heisman. Liberty’s Josh Woodrum is a four-year starter, and VMI’s Al Cobb set school records last year as a freshman. In the ACC, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas, North Carolina’s Marquise Williams, North Carolina State’s Jacoby Brissett, Pittsburgh’s Chad Voytik, Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Florida
State’s Everett Golson, a transfer from Notre Dame, give their fans reason for optimism. But in our coverage wheelhouse, we have more quarterback questions than answers. And such is the position’s nature: Quarterback is so critical, so central, so alluring, that no matter its occupant — star, journeyman or fledgling — we obsess over it like politics reporters do Donald Trump. The intrigue is most confounding at Virginia, where during the offseason 2013 starter David Watford and 2014 starter Greyson Lambert transferred to Hampton and Georgia, respectively. Corwin Cutler also announced his intention to exit before head coach Mike London and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild convinced him to reconsider. As if that weren’t enough, the Cavaliers also welcomed graduate transfer Connor Brewer from Arizona. He’s eligible immediately and figures to compete with Cutler for the No. 2 job behind Matt Johns, who started three games last year when Lambert was injured. Confused? If so, you’re entitled, and considering London’s dubious quarterback management during the last five seasons, you’re not alone. If Johns becomes more accurate, and if the offensive line stabilizes and improves, and if reliable playmakers emerge at running back and receiver, perhaps Virginia’s offense has a chance to cover for a defense that figures to be more porous than last season. But that’s an improbable alignment of planets, especially against a schedule tailored more for a College Football Playoff contender than a program groping for a winning season. Like Virginia, Hampton University has
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Our theme As David Teel describes above, the quarterback is one of the most visible members of a football program. This year, we chose to take a look at the quarterback situations at the schools we cover and found some interesting trends. At the high school level, this year the position is mostly experienced, with 14 of the 20 schools between the Bay Rivers and Peninsula districts returning QBs. In college, it’s a little more of a mix. From end-to-end of the state, and in between, take a look at the program’s quarterbacks as you get ready for football season. Happy reading! — Andi Petrini, Sports Editor
endured three consecutive losing years, and Watford likely will play a leading role in the Pirates’ quest to reverse that trend. He earned his degree at U.Va. and, per NCAA rules, can play this season. Hampton ranked 89th among FCS teams last season in scoring defense, 88th in scoring offense, leaving second-year coach Connell Maynor beaucoup deficiencies to address after his 3-9 Pirates debut. But Maynor’s calling card is offense. He played quarterback at Winston-Salem State and North Carolina A&T, and for nine seasons in the Arena League. He coordinated the 2008 Arena League champion Philadelphia Soul’s offense, and as Winston-Salem State’s head coach in 2012, he steered the Rams to the NCAA Division II national final, averaging 40.2 points. With a dual-threat quarterback such as Watford and Maynor’s creativity, Hampton almost certainly will be more productive in 2015. The opposite seems true at Old Dominion, where the Monarchs start anew at quarterback with redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley. The Monarchs’ offense was wildly entertaining and admirably efficient during Taylor Heinicke’s four seasons under center, and no matter the X-and-O artistry of head coach Bobby Wilder and offensive coordinator Brian Scott, good luck approaching that level with a rookie. CNU coach Matt Kelchner understands ODU’s challenge. Senior Marcus Morrast accounted for 3,629 yards total offense and 35 touchdowns as the Captains advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs last season. They’re now far less established at quarterback with senior Arsaiah Robinson — he backed up Morrast in
2014 and contributed a 50-yard touchdown run in a 31-28 victory at North Carolina Wesleyan. So returning to the postseason, especially while upgrading to the New Jersey Athletic Conference, likely hinges on solidifying a leaky defense. Among teams we regularly chronicle, two return quarterbacks who started every game last season. That’s often a gateway to success, as Virginia Tech and William and Mary should confirm this year. Cluley in 2014 became the first Tribe quarterback with eligibility remaining to start every game since Jake Phillips in 2007. He threw only four interceptions in 287 attempts as William and Mary finished 7-5, and with an experienced line and all-star tailback Abdul-Saboor, the Tribe should improve an offense that averaged a pedestrian 25.2 points. Brewer threw15 picks in 441attempts, a rate more than double Cluley’s and a primary reason Tech (7-6 overall) averaged only 24.1 points and tied for last in the ACC’s Coastal Division (3-5 conference record). But after his first offseason with coordinator Scot Loeffler, and given the Hokies’ young playmakers, there’s a buzz in Blacksburg about returning to the10-win seasons that were routine from 2004-11. “We think we’re good enough to get back to that level of play,” Brewer said. In Blacksburg and elsewhere, such optimism should be couched by “only if the quarterback is good enough.” Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636 or by email at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.
ON THE COVER
David Teel column High school quarterbacks College quarterbacks HIGH SCHOOL PREVIEWS
Peninsula District Bay Rivers District
Virginia Tech Virginia Old Dominion William and Mary Hampton Christopher Newport Other area colleges
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EYES on QB PLAY Current crop has talent, though debate about all-time greats won’t end By Marty O’Brien
uarterback has earned its place in Q Peninsula-area high school football lore as much as any position. Ronald Curry
was the Parade Magazine national Player of the Year while at Hampton High, Bryan Randall (Bruton) became ACC Offensive Player of the Year for Virginia Tech, and Norm Snead (Warwick), Michael Vick (Ferguson and Warwick) and Aaron Brooks (Ferguson) each enjoyed lengthy NFL careers at the position. Signal-callers also have produced terrific seasons, prompting passionate debates about just who was the best in the area. Newport News High’s Jimmy Hogan threw 16 touchdown passes in a two-week span during the 1966 season, but the consensus was that Walter Bowser — who passed for 1,627 yards and 29 touchdowns in leading neighboring Huntington to a 10-0 record and Virginia Interscholastic Association state title — was better. The Curry-Vick duel in September 1997 drew 8,000 to Todd Stadium and is considered a high-water mark of high school football on the Peninsula. Curry and Hampton beat Vick and Warwick 34-16, with a Curry interception of Vick perhaps turning the tide on a night when Vick nonetheless solidified his status as a great prep QB. No such epic duels are forecast for the 2015 season and, as of yet, there’s no sign that one of the 20 starting quarterbacks in the Peninsula District or Bay Rivers District will join the area’s very best of all time. But, make no mistake, this figures to be a good See PLAY/Page 7
TOP: Hampton’s Jovonn Quillen may have a great senior season in store after a spectacular 2014. BOTTOM: Lafayette’s Cheyton Pine is a key BRD quarterback to watch. TOP FILE PHOTO BY ROB OSTERMAIER. BOTTOM FILE PHOTO BY JONATHON GRUENKE.
—Hampton High School football coach Mike Smith
Play Continued from 6 season in the area for fans of high school quarterback play. Experience is a big reason. Seven of 10 starters return in the Bay Rivers and Peninsula districts. There’s quality, too. Hampton’s Jovonn Quillen, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior, already has committed to play for Virginia Tech after a spectacular junior season in which he ran for 1,209 yards, passed for 1,528, scored 23 touchdowns and passed for 14 TDs. “Bubba stepped up as a junior as the leader of this football team,” Hampton coach Mike Smith said. “He’s personable, works hard and is not a guy who thinks he knows everything. “Still, he understands the responsibilities on his shoulders, and that he’s the general who’s got to make the calls. He has to maintain that quality he showed last year, because sometimes kids forget what got them where they are.” Another PD quarterback looking to maintain a high level of excellence is Kecoughtan’s Desmond Savage, a 6-1, 175pound senior. Savage led Kecoughtan last season to a 9-3 record, its best in 12 years, by throwing for 2,172 yards and 28 touchdowns in 11 outings. Savage’s offseason didn’t just include time in the weight room and on the track. He’s worked tirelessly to improve his understanding of the game. “He and I twice a week have sessions together (where) we watch film and break it down,” Kecoughtan coach Alonzo Coley said. “He reads real well.” Several other PD quarterbacks are just below the level of the elite two, with the potential to make their marks. Woodside’s
Tyhier Tyler ran for 10 touchdowns in 2015 before missing the final two games with a shoulder injury, while Phoebus’ Justin Wright passed for 904 yards and 10 scores after becoming the starter early in the season. Perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch is Jeremiah Boyd. He was terrific as a freshman in leading Heritage to the Group 4A state semifinals, passing for 1,300 yards and17 touchdowns after taking over in Week 5.Hesufferedaproverbialsophomoreslump and lost his job last year, but is penciled in as the Hurricanes’ starter and will look to regain his freshman form. For all of the starting quarterbacks returningintheoftenrun-orientedBayRivers,only a few have experienced significant levels of success. Tabb’s Alec Kurek threw for more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games a year ago, and Grafton’s D.J. Dobbins displayed steady leadership and breakaway running ability in leading his team to a surprising 4-2 start before he was sidelined by an injury. Trey Hicks started for Poquoson as a freshman and sophomore, but played sparingly in 2014 as he focused on baseball. TheBRDquarterbackmosteyeswillbeon is one who started just two games: Lafayette’sCheytonPine.Oneofthosewasthe3A state final, where he filled in for three-year starter Brendan McGinty, whose wrist was broken. Pine’s performance in the 25-19 loss to Magna Vista for the state title wasn’t great, as he completed just 5 of 13 passes, was interceptedonceandlost twofumbles. Buthehad some good moments, too, against avery good defense, a 47-yard touchdown pass among them, and earned high marks from his coaches for keeping the Rams in the game until the final 90 seconds. Lafayette coach Andy Linn believes that Pine, who already has committed to a full
LEFT PHOTO BY ROB OSTERMAIER; RIGHT PHOTO BY JOE FUDGE
LEFT: Quarterback Cheyton Pine runs through a drill during preseason practice at Lafayette High on Aug. 4. RIGHT: Hampton High quarterback Jovonn Quillen prepares for a catch during practice Aug. 4. The Peninsula quarterbacks have stepped up.
scholarship to Pittsburgh as a linebacker, easily could have been a D-I quarterback recruit were it not for the presence of McGinty, now playing at the University of Pennsylvania. “Cheyton is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, has a greatarm,canrunandisinaclassathletically with all of the other great quarterbacks to play around here,” Linn said. “Now that he’s getting reps in practice, he’s doing great at getting the timing aspects of our (Wing-T) offense down and he’s commanding the huddle. “We think he’s going to be a great quarterback.”
Whether he or Quillen or Savage or anyone else can join the area’s all-time elite is another matter. “Italldependsonwhataquarterbackdoes with his team,” said Smith, who has coached theCrabbersto12statetitles.“Peopleseemto remember the quarterbacks who were catalysts in getting their teams deep in the playoffs. “Quarterbacks are the engine that makes the wheels turn.” Staff writers Lynn Burke and Tommy Hamzik contributed to this story. O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.
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“Quarterbacks are the engine that makes the wheels turn.”
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ONLINE | Read Kate Yanchulis’ Inside the PD blog at HRVarsity.com and like HRVarsity on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @KYanchulis.
THE VITALS COACH | William Beverley (first year) 2014 | 5-6, 5-4 (lost to Ocean Lakes in 6A South quarterfinal) Last time not in playoffs | 2013 Group | 5A Conference | 10 (PenSouth) Home field | Darling Stadium THE SCHEDULE Aug. 28 | Indian River, 7 (DNP) Sept. 4 | at Phoebus, 7 (L, 12-13) Sept. 10 | Warwick, 7 (W, 42-7) Sept. 18 | at Kecoughtan, 7 (L, 43-6) Sept. 26 | Heritage, 2 (W, 23-20) Oct. 2 | Hampton, 7 (L, 28-35) Oct. 8 | Woodside, 7 (L, 27-49) Oct. 17 | at Menchville, 1 (W, 46-23) Oct. 23 | at Denbigh, 7 (W, 24-19) Oct. 29 | Gloucester, 7 (W, 25-14) THE STANDOUTS Terry Chisley Sr. | 5-10 | 175 | QB/WR/DB The top returning receiver with the graduation of Darrell Brown, but Beverley says Chisley is competing for the starting QB job. If he doesn’t go under center, he’ll be the go-to receiver. And he’ll play cornerback on defense. Daquan Silver Sr. | 6-5 | 303 | OT/DT If the Bruins have success running the ball, they’ll do so behind Silver’s blocking. Beverley expects Silver to draw lots of attention from college coaches as the season progresses. THE STORYLINES Unusual shift. Beverley played for Bethel. After a long career in school administration, including the principal’s job at Phoebus High School, he’s back in the classroom and on the field as his alma mater’s football coach. Who’s the QB? Beau Morgan graduated, taking his 1,000-yard passing season to the college ranks. Chisley is one candidate, JV graduate Navarro Price the other. “I’m positive we’ll have a quarterback ready on Day One,” Beverley says. Replacing skill players. The QB situation is a top priority. Also gone is top RB Quinton Lee and Brown at WR. Janaz Jordan and DeAndre Gillis are in the RB mix. With Chisley working at QB, no one has owned the WR position, Beverley said. BEST QB EVER Allen Iverson. There are several from whom to choose, but Iverson always will be the most recognizable name. He led Bethel to the 1992 Division 5 state championship and had dreams of playing quarterback at Notre Dame. Instead, basketball and a wellpublicized bowling alley incident got in his way and he became an NBA Most Valuable Player.
THE VITALS COACH | Marcellus Harris (eighth season, 26-46) 2014 | 3-7, 3-6 Last playoff appearance | 2013 Group | 4A Conference |18 (Ironclad) Home field | Todd Stadium THE SCHEDULE Aug. 28 | at B.T. Washington (DNP) Sept. 3 | Hampton, 7 (L, 26-38) Sept. 11 | Kecoughtan, 7 (L, 7-42) Sept. 18 | at Gloucester, 7 (W, 27-13) Sept. 24 | at Menchville, 7 (W, 38-7) Oct. 3 | Heritage, 4 (L, 13-20) Oct. 9 | at Warwick, 7 (W, 26-7) Oct. 17 | at Woodside, 4 (L, 14-50) Oct. 23 | Bethel, 7 (L, 19-24) Oct. 29 | Phoebus, 7 (L, 0-50) THE STANDOUTS Gabe Boyd Sr. | 5-11 | 190 | LB/RB Leader in the secondary who Harris says has taken charge through camp. Also figures to be a piece of solving the puzzle in the backfield. L.J. Taylor Sr. | 6-1 | 175 | QB Transfer from Woodside who will have an impact from the start. Threw for 243 yards and three touchdowns in Woodside’s Wing-T offense. Jordan Williams Sr. | 5-9 | 170 | WR/LB Williams is another Woodside transfer who will help the Patriots from the start. Seemingly, he can play anywhere. Ran for three touchdowns and caught two TD passes last year. THE STORYLINES Transfer impact. Taylor and Williams immediately will help the Patriots on offense, and Williams’ presence will be felt in the secondary, too. Also new, from Woodside, is lineman Shaun Wilson. So Harris is excited about his newcomers. Better line. Harris said this is perhaps the best offensive line he’s coached since he’s been at Denbigh. Usually receiver-heavy, the Patriots now have a strength in the trenches. Harris wants to develop a “nasty attitude” up front. Multiple running backs. Leading rusher Elijah Rice has transferred, and Harris said he’ll use a bycommittee approach to fill that void. Boyd and Casey Vick will take many of the carries, as will Keyshawn Chisholm. The strength of the offensive line should help. BEST QB EVER Terrence Dingle. All he did in the 2013 season was pass for 2,572 yards and 29 touchdowns, and run for 679 yards and eight scores. Now at Division II Harding University in Searcy, Ark., he led the Patriots to the first playoff win in the school’s 49 years of existence.
THE VITALS COACH | Brandon Kelly (third season, 3-17) 2014 | 1-9, 1-8 Last playoff appearance| 1986 (Group AA) Group | 5A Conference | 10 (PenSouth) Home field | Gloucester HS THE SCHEDULE Aug. 27 | at Kecoughtan, 7 (L, 14-44) Sept. 4 | Jamestown, 7 (DNP) Sept. 11 | Woodside, 7 (L, 10-5) Sept. 18 | Denbigh, 7 (L, 13-27) Sept. 24 | at Hampton, 7 (L, 0-49) Oct. 1 | at Phoebus, 7 (L, 0-40) Oct. 9 | Menchville, 7 (W, 28-20) Oct. 15 | at Heritage, 7 (L, 10-42) Oct. 23 | Warwick, 7 (L, 21-27) Oct. 29 | at Bethel, 7 (L, 14-25) THE STANDOUTS Brady Barefoot Sr. | 6-0 | 175 | WR/DB This will be his third year as a starter. Kelly points to Barefoot’s leadership ability and that he’s a very physical player. Nathaniel VanNess Sr. | 6-1 |220 | OL/DL He’ll be a key part of the lines. On offense, Gloucester lost only one player from last year, and Kelly points to VanNess as a leader and hard worker, who’s also in his third year as a starter. Owen Rousselle Sr. | 6-2 | 170 | WR/DB Kelly said Rousselle was hesitant as a sophomore, but his hard work elevated him to the role of a team captain last year. “He’s one of those guys who will compete and do whatever you ask,” Kelly said. THE STORYLINES Beat the odds. Gloucester has just 11 victories in the last nine seasons. The offseason theme for team workouts was “beat the odds,” and Kelly says the goal is to change the culture and start winning games. Replacing Pullen. Devon Pullen ran for 920 yards last year, nearly 60 percent of the Dukes’ offense. He’s gone now, and in the mix to replace him are junior Martine Morris and sophomore Rashaad Williams, a junior-varsity graduate. Stop the deep ball. Kelly said the Dukes have given up too many long pass completions in the past few years. It’s led to an emphasis on technique improvements for the defensive backs, including learning how to sprint out of a backpedal. BEST QB EVER A.T. Walthall. Before graduating in 1961, Walthall led Gloucester to 32 victories as a four-year starter. Among his accomplishments: six touchdowns in a game, 270 passing yards in a game and nearly 7,200 yards of offense.
THE VITALS COACH | Mike Smith (45th season, 451-81-2) 2014 | 7-4, 6-3 (lost to Green Run in 5A South quarterfinal) Last time not in playoffs | 2002 Group | 5A Conference | 10 (PenSouth) Home field | Darling Stadium THE SCHEDULE Sept. 3 | at Denbigh, 7 (W, 38-26) Sept. 11 | at Heritage, 7 (L, 21-26) Sept. 17 | at Woodside, 7 (L, 28-29) Sept. 24 | Gloucester, 7 (W, 49-0) Oct. 2 | at Bethel, 7 (W, 35-28) Oct. 9 | at Kec., 7 (W, 37-34) Oct. 16 | Phoebus, 7 (L, 8-19) Oct. 24 | at Mench., 2 (W, 49-10) Oct. 30 | Warwick, 7 (W, 41-0) Nov. 6 | Churchland, 7 (DNP) THE STANDOUTS Jovonn Quillen Sr. | 6-1 | 185 | QB/DB All this guy did last year was run for 1,209 yards, pass for 1,528, score 23 touchdowns himself and pass for 14 more TDs. His best rushing game was 196 yards vs. Warwick. Demetrius Strickland Sr. | 5-9 | 185 | RB/LB Having him back could take some of the offensive load away from Quillen. Strickland broke a bone in his lower back early last season, then came back for the playoffs. As a sophomore in 2013, he rushed for 887 yards and 10 touchdowns. Dazz Newsome Jr. | 5-9 | 155 | WR/DB The son of former Crabbers great Myron Newsome and the brother of ex-Crabber Deon Newsome. Smith said the younger Newsome has the potential to be an outstanding player before graduation. THE STORYLINES Keep Quillen healthy. In the past two years, two other players have thrown passes for Hampton, but neither is in the program. Last year, rushing and passing, Quillen was involved in 328 plays, while the rest of the team was in on 171 running plays Win the close ones. Hampton was 7-4 last year, but the four losses were by 1, 3, 5 and 11 points. Play better defense. Smith’s word for Hampton’s defense the last couple of years: Shameful. “We’re going to make every effort to go back and correct that this year,” Smith said. BEST QB EVER Ronald Curry. Hampton has produced many outstanding quarterbacks, but he is the best of them all. All he did during his career was lead the Crabbers to three state titles with numbers that include 89 passing touchdowns, 96 TDs scored, 11,519 yards of offense and 8,212 yards passing.
THE VITALS COACH | George Massenburg (fifth year, 32-16) 2014 | 11-2, 8-1 (lost to Monacan in 4A South semifinal) Last time not in playoffs | 2011 Group | 4A Conference | 18 (Ironclad) Home field | Todd Stadium THE SCHEDULE Aug. 28 | Lake Taylor, 7 (DNP) Sept. 4 | at Warwick, 5 (W, 43-6) Sept. 11 | at Hampton, 7 (W, 26-21) Sept. 18 | Menchville, 7 (W, 28-7) Sept. 26 | at Bethel, 2 (L, 20-23) Oct. 3 | at Denbigh, 4 (W, 20-13) Oct. 10 | Phoebus, 2 (W, 20-14) Oct. 16 | Gloucester, 7 (W, 42-10) Oct. 22 | Kecoughtan, 7 (W, 26-13) Oct. 30 | at Woodside, 7 (W, 12-7) THE STANDOUTS Jeremiah Boyd Jr. | 6-1 | 190 | QB Had a spectacular freshman season, then won the starting job last year before getting injured. A threat on the ground, where he ran for 144 yards on 23 carries. Tra’Sean Shackleford Sr. | 5-9 | 180 | RB Led the Hurricanes with 709 rushing yards on 103 carries, with four touchdowns. A north-andsouth runner with enough speed to make you miss. Tyquan Baucom Jr. | 6-1 | 205 | LB A transfer from New Bern, N.C., who Massenburg said will have an impact from the start. Will play middle linebacker and look to solidify the secondary. THE STORYLINES Backfield strength. Shackleford leads the way here, but other backs return to help shoulder the load. Omar Martin (86 carries, 525 yards) also returns, and Boyd is dangerous on the ground, too. Look for the Hurricanes to take advantage. Solid up front. The backfield has the blocking and protection of an offensive line that Massenburg is big on. The Hurricanes return three starters here and have some younger players in the mix, too. Getting over the hump. The Hurricanes have advanced to the 4A semifinals each of the last two years, losing to Dinwiddie in 2013 and Monacan last year. Massenburg said his team is “eager to get to the next level" but won’t dwell in the past. BEST QB EVER Jayson Cooke. He was behind center for just one season, but it was Heritage’s greatest season. That was 2000, when the Hurricanes went 14-0 and cruised to the Division 5 state title. Cooke passed for 1,602 yards and 15 touchdowns that year.
By Lynn Burke and Tommy Hamzik
Online | Read Kate Yanchulis’ Inside the PD blog at HRVarsity.com and like HRVarsity on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @KYanchulis.
THE VITALS COACH | Alonzo Coley (fourth year, 18-13) 2014 | 9-3, 7-2 (lost to Ocean Lakes in 6A South semifinal) Last time not in playoffs | 2013 Group | 5A Conference | 10 (PenSouth) Home field | Darling Stadium THE SCHEDULE Aug. 27 | Gloucester, 7 (W, 44-14) Sept. 4 | at Granby, 7 (DNP) Sept. 11 | at Denbigh, 7 (W, 42-7) Sept. 18 | Bethel, 7 (W, 43-6) Sept. 25 | Phoebus, 7 (W, 26-16) Oct. 2 | at Woodside, 7 (W, 49-27) Oct. 9 | Hampton, 7 (L, 34-37) Oct. 15 | at Warwick, 7 (W, 47-0) Oct. 22 | at Heritage, 7 (L, 13-26) Oct. 31 | Menchville, 2 (W, 37-0) THE STANDOUTS Desmond Savage Sr. | 6-1 | 175 | QB He threw for 2,172 yards and 28 TDs in 11 games last year. Since then, he’s added 20 pounds in the weight room, going from 155 pounds to 175. Keith Grandy Jr. | 5-9 | 170 | WR/DB After a sophomore year when he caught 56 passes for 781 yards and seven TDs, he’ll be the go-to guy this year. Tyler Crist Sr. | 6-0 | 210 | DE/TE Crist will be one of the guys expected to help overcome the absence of Nick Carrera, a gamechanger. Crist is slotted in at tight end, but Coley expects to move him and Ja’cione Fugate around to make them more versatile. THE STORYLINES Fugate is healthy. Ja’cione Fugate, who ended the season as Kecoughtan’s top running back, suffered a leg injury in the Warriors’ playoff loss and needed surgery. He’s back now and, besides offense, will be one of the studs in Kecoughtan’s secondary. Huge, but young, line. The offensive line is college-sized. Veteran Keagan Brown is 6 feet, 4 inches and 280 pounds. Others on the line weigh 330, 315, 270 and 250. Moving down. Kecoughtan is no longer a Group 6A school. The school’s enrollment declined enough to move the Warriors to 5A. Kecoughtan now must contend with teams such as threetime state champ L.C. Bird, powerhouse Highland Springs, Hampton and Indian River. BEST QB EVER Desmond Savage. It’s hard to argue against Savage, who is the most prolific passer in Kecoughtan history. He threw four touchdown passes in four separate games last year. His career best, so far, is 398 yards against Heritage in 2013.
THE VITALS COACH | Ray Savage (first year) 2014 | 1-9, 0-9 Last playoff appearance | 1993 Group | 5A Conference | 10 (PenSouth) Home field | Todd Stadium THE SCHEDULE Aug. 28 | Nansemond River, 5 (DNP) Sept. 4 | Woodside, 8 (L, 0-49) Sept. 12 | at Phoebus, 2 (L, 0-42) Sept. 18 | at Heritage, 7 (L, 7-28) Sept. 24 | Denbigh, 7 (L, 7-38) Oct. 3 | at Warwick, 2 (L, 14-27) Oct. 9 | at Gloucester, 7 (L, 20-28) Oct. 17 | Bethel, 1 (L, 23-46) Oct. 24 | Hampton, 2 (L, 10-49) Oct. 31 | at Kecoughtan, 2 (L, 0-37) THE STANDOUTS Malik Dixon Sr. | 5-7 | 172 | RB Ran for a team-high 488 yards last year, scoring one touchdown. Look for him to take on a different role in the changed offense. Ray Savage Sr. | 6-2 | 206 | LB Son of the head coach, Savage figures to be one of the stalwart members of the Monarchs’ defense, which allowed 35.1 points per game last year. A.J. Wyatt Jr. | 6-0 | 180 | QB Will look to build from the beginning of last season. He struggled a year ago after winning the starting job. THE STORYLINES Changed offense. The Monarchs ran the veer last year, but have switched to a spread with some power formations mixed in. Savage said they’ll throw the ball around a little bit, which is where being two-deep at receiver helps. New regime. Savage is Menchville’s third coach in five years. He spent the last two years as the Monarchs’ defensive coordinator. He’s faced with a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 1995, but is optimistic. Building the lines. Savage said the Monarchs still lack some depth, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. A priority for him is to get younger players experience at those positions to try to gain some more depth. BEST QB EVER Clifton Richardson. He wasn’t a true quarterback, instead being more of a guy who lined up at quarterback so Menchville could get the ball in his hands as often as possible. As a senior, he rushed for 871 yards in nine games and passed for 505. As a junior, he rushed for well more than 1,000 yards.
COACH | Jeremy Blunt (third full season, 26-7) 2014 | 8-4, 7-2 Last time not in playoffs | 2000 Group | 3A Conference | 27 Home field | Darling Stadium THE SCHEDULE Aug. 27 | at Wilson, 7 (DNP) Sept. 4 | at Bethel, 7 (W, 13-12) Sept. 12 | Menchville, 2 (W, 42-0) Sept. 19 | at Warwick, 2 (W, 35-17) Sept. 25 | at Keco’tan, 7 (L, 16-26) Oct. 1 | Gloucester, 7 (W, 40-0) Oct. 10 | at Heritage, 2 (L, 14-20) Oct. 16 | at Hampton, 7 (W, 19-8) Oct. 23 | Woodside, 7 (W, 21-17) Oct. 29 | at Denbigh, 7 (W, 50-0) THE STANDOUTS Jomari Becnel Sr. | 5-9 | 175 | RB/DB He ran for 1,129 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, preserving Phoebus’ streak of 1,000-yard rushers. Expect more of the same from Becnel in 2015, especially with last year’s backup Trey Hamlin slotted in some at wide receiver. Elijah Nelson Sr. | 6-2 | 180 | WR The multi-talented Nelson caught 32 passes for 792 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014 after transferring to Phoebus from Florida. As the Phantoms develop a more rounded offense, he again will be in the mix of things this season. Andre Smith Sr. | 6-1 | 210 | TE/DE He won’t catch many passes, but he will be a lead blocker in the running game. On defense, he was a Conference 18 all-star, leading Phoebus and the conference in sacks, according to Blunt. THE STORYLINES Stability at quarterback. Since the days of Tajh Boyd, Phoebus has had seasons where the starting quarterback in the first game isn’t the starter at the end of the season. Not so now. Justin Wright will be the starter from Day 1 this season. Still Tailback U. Becnel ran Phoebus’ streak of 1,000-yard rushers to 15 consecutive years last season. That’s even though the Phantoms passed for more yards (1,494) than they ran for (1,248). Big fish in a little pond? Phoebus’ enrollment drop means the Phantoms, the most decorated football program in Virginia over the past 15 years, are now a Group 3A school. BEST QB EVER Tajh Boyd. He compiled a 43-2 record as Phoebus’ quarterback, leading the team to two state championships, despite playing part of his senior year with a torn ACL. He set 57 school or ACC records at Clemson. He is in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ camp this fall.
THE VITALS COACH | Corey Hairston (second season, 2-8) 2014 | 2-8, 2-7 Last playoff appearance | 2011 Group | 5A Conference | 10 (PenSouth) Home field | Todd Stadium THE SCHEDULE Aug. 28 | at Granby (DNP) Sept. 4 | Heritage, 5 (L, 6-43) Sept. 10 | at Bethel, 7 (L, 7-42) Sept. 19 | Phoebus, 2 (L, 17-35) Sept. 25 | at Woodside, 7 (L, 0-35) Oct. 3 | Menchville, 2 (W, 27-14) Oct. 9 | Denbigh, 7 (L, 6-27) Oct. 15 | Kecoughtan, 7 (L, 0-47) Oct. 23 | at Gloucester, 7 (W, 27-21) Oct. 30 | at Hampton, 7 (L, 0-41) THE STANDOUTS D.J. Nunn Jr. | 6-1 | 185 | QB Returning starter brings some leadership to the table. Hairston likes the way Nunn manages the Raiders’ offense and how calm he is while doing it. Malik Harris Sr. | 6-1 | 230 | DE A three-year starter on the defensive line, Harris figures to be the anchor of a defensive front that’s hoping to improve from last year. Demonte Good Sr. | 5-9 | 185 | RB Good primarily has played receiver the last two years, but Hairston has been pleased with Good’s transition to the backfield, where the Raiders are losing their top rusher. THE STORYLINES Experience. Hairston said a lot of the younger players who saw action last year might not have been quite ready for the varsity level. The good news is they now have a year under their belts after last season’s struggles. Maturing offense. Some new coaches on the offensive side have led to a little bit of a learning curve. Hairston said he’s confident the offense won’t be a question mark, but it’s still taking some extra time to catch up. Better defense?The Raiders gave up 35 or more points six times last year, but they have eight returners with varsity experience on this year’s team. Hairston thinks that’s a formula for some improvement. BEST QB EVER Norm Snead/Michael Vick. They played in different eras (Snead in the ’50s, Vick in the ’90s) and had different styles, so it’s tough to compare. Both had standout college careers and combined to play 28 seasons in the NFL.
THE VITALS COACH | Danny Dodson (17th season, 98-73) 2014 | 7-4, 6-3 Last time not in playoffs | 2012 Group | 6A Conference | 2 (Monitor-Merrimac) Home field | Todd Stadium THE SCHEDULE Aug. 28 | at N’western (S.C.), 7 (DNP) Sept. 4 | at Menchville, 8 (W, 49-0) Sept. 11 | at Gloucester, 7 (W, 56-10) Sept. 17 | Hampton, 7 (W, 29-28) Sept. 25 | Warwick, 7 (W, 35-0) Oct. 2 | Kecoughtan, 7 (L, 27-49) Oct. 8 | at Bethel, 7 (W, 49-27) Oct. 17 | Denbigh, 4 (W, 50-14) Oct. 23 | at Phoebus, 7 (L, 17-21) Oct. 30 | Heritage, 7 (L, 7-12) THE STANDOUTS Tamir Walker Jr. | 5-8 | 165 | RB Rushed for 1,083 yards on 150 carries with 13 touchdowns as a sophomore. Has good speed, can catch the ball and runs like he’s bigger than he is. Tyhier Tyler Jr. | 5-8 | 150 | QB Started last year before missing the last two games with a shoulder injury. Ran for 322 yards on 83 carries, with 10 touchdowns. D’Angelo Chesson Jr. | 5-7 | 165 | OLB Switching to linebacker after playing primarily at cornerback. Expected to be a leader on a young defense. THE STORYLINES Solid skill players. Dodson thinks the strength of the offense is the ability of his returners to make plays in space. The Wolverines return six starters on offense, led by Walker, Tyler and Demetri Banks. Woodside averaged 33.3 points per game last year, and the success of those three will be vital to keeping that mark high. Still young. Dodson said he thought the Wolverines did well with a young group last season, but that they got younger again this year. Four players transferred, including two from the offensive line, so there are holes to fill. Grooming a defense. The Wolverines return just three starters on defense. Dodson said he likes the potential there, but it’s a matter of how they respond in game action. Chesson and free safety Kamari Jackson will lead. BEST QB EVER Aaron Evans. As a senior in 2009, he led Woodside to an 11-2 record, becoming the second Peninsula District quarterback to run and pass for 1,000 yards in a season. He finished with 1,522 passing and 1,261 rushing. For his career, he had nearly 5,000 yards of offense, and then he went on to play for Old Dominion.
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BAY RIVERS DISTRICT
ONLINE | Read Marty O’Brien’s Inside the BRD blog at HRVarsity.com and Facebook. Follow him on Twitter @MartyOBrienDP.
THE VITALS Coach | Reggie Jones
THE VITALS Coach | Matt McLeod (third year
THE VITALS Coach | Donnell Brown (first year) 2014 | 0-10, 0-9 (10th) Last playoff appearance | 2013 Group | 4A Conference | 18 Home field | Wanner Stadium SCHEDULE
THE VITALS Coach | Andy Linn
THE VITALS Coach | Clark Harrell (first year at
(second year, 2-9) 2014 | 2-9, 2-7 (T-eighth)
Last time not in playoffs | 2012 Group | 2A Conference | 33 Home field | Bruton HS SCHEDULE
Sept. 3 | at King William, 7 (DNP) Sept. 11 |at Smithfield, 7 (L, 0-42) Sept. 18 | Grafton, 7 (L, 7-31) Sept. 25 | New Kent, 7 (L, 26-28) Oct. 2 | at Tabb, 7 (L, 0-28) Oct. 9 | York, 7 (L, 0-35) Oct. 16 | Jamestown, 7 (W, 13-3) Oct. 23 | at Poquoson, 7 (W, 20-7) Oct. 31 | Lafayette, 2 (L, 27-62) Nov. 6 | at Warhill, 7 (L, 13-20)
THE STANDOUTS Daniel Jones Sr. | 6-2 | 195 | ATH/LB
The University of Richmond recruit will be the Panthers’ catalyst on both sides on the ball. On offense, the Panthers will put him anywhere they can get him the ball. He’ll use his mobility to patrol the field from sideline to sideline. His array of gifts includes a 40-yard punting average last year, which earned him allstate honors.
Greg Dockery Jr. | 6-0 | 200 | QB
A capable runner and good decision-maker, Dockery should improve significantly after a full season as the Panthers’ starter.
Ian Gruver Sr. | 5-10 | 175 | FB/LB
A tenacious fighter, Gruver is the type of go-getter on which Bruton has prided itself for many years.
THE STORYLINES Looking to bounce back. After
graduating 19 seniors from an 8-4 team in 2013, the youthful Panthers took their lumps with just two starters back. They consider it payback time now.
Points and yards needed.
Bruton’s youth showed most on offense, where the Panthers were shut out five times and often held to fewer than 150 yards. With experience everywhere, those numbers should improve. Blitz, blitz, blitz. Experience should make the players better able to read and carry out the blitzes central to coordinator Terrence Johnson’s defensive scheme.
BEST QB EVER Bryan Randall. The Virginia Tech
Hall of Famer was the first Peninsula-area QB to run and pass for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. His scramble, untouched, for 21 yards that left 10 Tabb Tigers sprawled on the field is one of the great plays in district history.
at Grafton, 9-12; sixth year overall, 26-25) 2014 | 6-5, 6-3 (T-third) Last time not in playoffs | 2013 Group | 4A Conference | 18 Home field | Bailey Field
Sept. 4 | Churchland, 7 (DNP) Sept. 11 | at Poquoson, 7 (L, 19-26) Sept. 18 | at Bruton, 7 (W, 31-7) Sept. 25 | Tabb, 7 (L, 10-56) Oct. 3| New Kent, 7 (W, 62-12) Oct. 9 | Lafayette, 7 (L, 20-42) Oct. 16 | at Warhill, 7 W, 14-6) Oct. 23 | York, 7 (W, 24-14) Oct. 31 | at Jamestown, 7 (W, 37-0) Nov. 6 | at Smithfield, 7 (W, 33-12)
THE STANDOUTS D.J. Dobbins Sr. | 6-0 | 205 | QB
Dobbins’ play at QB, including several long touchdown runs, was a key to the Clippers’ surprising 4-2 start. It’s no coincidence the Clippers finished 2-3 after he broke his collarbone on the last play of a 24-14 upset of York.
Julian Miller Sr. | 6-1 | 250 | DL/OL
He provides just the right touch as a team leader, plus intelligence that makes him a good run blocker. Improving use of his hands makes him tough to block on the defensive line.
Reed King Sr. | 5-10 | 175 | K/WR
His impressive kicking résumé a year ago included hitting all four field-goal attempts, including 45and 42-yarders, 22 of 25 PATs and 25 touchbacks.
THE STORYLINES Dobbins’ return. His ability to
command the huddle is as important as his considerable rushing skills in the spread-option attack. Veteran line. In Miller, Jacob Zuhlke and Alan Blaha, the Clippers possess a strong blocking nucleus to spring powerful RB Trevaun Walker (920 yards rushing in 2014) or give Dobbins the time to pass to a deep receiver corps. Lots back on defense. Allconference safety Tavaris Noel (five interceptions, three forced fumbles) leads a cast of six returning starters.
BEST QB EVER David Poutier. An elite athlete,
Poutier (2002-05) threw for a total of 2,387 yards and 33 TDs as a junior and senior, and rushed for 1,435 yards and 20 scores. In 2004, he led Grafton to its first regional title with a memorable win over Lafayette.
Sept. 4 | at Gloucester, 7 (DNP) Sept. 11 | at Tabb, 7 (L, 0-49) Sept. 18 | at Poquoson, 7 (L, 0-49) Sept. 25 | Lafayette, 7 (L, 0-78) Oct. 2 | Warhill, 7 (L, 6-49) Oct. 8 | New Kent, 7 (L, 14-41) Oct. 16 | at Bruton, 7 (L, 3-13) Oct. 23 | at Smithfield, 7 (L, 6-56) Oct. 31 | Grafton, 7 (L, 0-37) Nov. 7 | at York, 2 (L, 10-40)
THE STANDOUTS Mark Lipscomb Sr. | 5-8 | 185 | RB/DB
In Lipscomb, the Eagles have a quick, smart and speedy athlete capable of giving the offense explosiveness and the defense solid pass coverage.
Russ Schugeld Jr. | 6-2 | 290 | OT/DT
It would be plenty if all Schugeld gave the Eagles was strength and size. But he comes off the ball quickly and delivers a wallop, providing a good example on a team that needs to become more physical.
CJ Delfico Sr. | 5-10 | 185 | TE/DE
Donnell Brown calls him a “program guy,” a tough kid whose example on and off the field inspires his teammates.
THE STORYLINES Donnell Brown takes over. The
son of former New York Yankees outfielder Bobby Brown, head coach Donnell Brown, assisted by brother Ronnell Brown (defensive coordinator), will attempt to lift Jamestown football from the depths. Another tough season? A quick turnaround appears to be a longshot. Two of last year’s best players, Caden Darber and Chris Jones, decided to concentrate on other sports and the senior class is just six players. Big opener. Gloucester has won only three games in the past three seasons. Jamestown still will enter as underdog, but a competitive showing will provide a badly needed boost moving into Bay Rivers District play.
BEST QB EVER Matt McDaniel. He completed
327 passes for 5,078 yards in four seasons, leading the Eagles to a 7-3 record in 1998 that still is tied for a school best. Pete Weber caught a then state-record 15 passes from McDaniel in a ’98 game.
By Marty o’Brien
(fifth year, 44-7) 2014 | 14-1, 9-0 (first)
Last time not in playoffs | 2010 Group | 4A Conference | 25 (Colonial Rivers) Home field | Wanner Stadium SCHEDULE
Sept. 3 | at Huguenot, 7 (W, 52-6) Sept. 11 | Warhill, 7 (W, 48-0) Sept. 18 | Smithfield, 7 (W, 28-0) Sept. 25 | at Jamestown, 7 (W, 78-0) Oct. 3 | York, 7 (W, 28-0) Oct. 9 | at Grafton, 7 (W, 42-20) Oct. 15 | at Poquoson, 7 (W, 35-14) Oct. 23: Tabb, 7 (W, 34-3) Oct. 30 | at Bruton, 7 (W, 62-27) Nov. 5 | New Kent 7 (W, 41-7)
THE STANDOUTS Cheyton Pine Sr. | 6-4 | 220 | QB/LB
A flurry of postseason excellence at linebacker landed him a scholarship to play at Pittsburgh. If he becomes as good under center, the Rams should reach the state semis.
Trey Neville Sr. | 6-4 | 250 | RT/DE
Strong and nasty, with a lightningquick first step, the United States Military Academy-bound wrecking machine is as relentless a lineman as you’ll find in the area.
John Douglass Sr. |5-10 | 215 | RB
His low center of gravity and powerful legs make him difficult to tackle, as evidenced by his 1,673 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns a year ago.
THE STORYLINES Moving on up. The competition in
the 4A East Region — Lake Taylor, Heritage, King’s Fork, Hanover, Dinwiddie — is going to be tough, but it’s going to be fun watching the region’s smallest school, talented Lafayette, go after them. 3 to Division I. Two Rams, Neville and Pine, have made Division I commitments and a third, WR Tyreke Graham, will soon. You have to go back to the ’91 Tabb team to find a more loaded senior class. Dominant defense. LB Liam Walters (111 tackles as a sophomore) leads a physical unit that could approach the averages — 7.0 points and 133 yards allowed — it posted in the first 14 games of 2014.
BEST QB EVER Brendan McGinty. He capped a
great career, in which the Rams went 44-6 with him at QB, by netting more than 2,000 yards and accounting for 35 TDs in leading the Rams to the 3A state final.
New Kent; 32nd year overall, 214-140) 2014 | 2-8, 2-7 (T-eighth)
Last playoff appearance | 2003 Group | 3A Conference | 25 (Colonial Rivers) Home field | New Kent HS SCHEDULE
Sept. 3 | Colonial Heights, 7 (DNP) Sept. 11 | York, 7 (L, 6-37) Sept. 18 | Tabb, 7 (L, 20-56) Sept. 25 | at Bruton, 7 (W, 28-26) Oct. 3 | at Grafton, 7 (L, 12-62) Oct. 8 | at Jamestown, 7 (W, 41-14) Oct. 16 | Smithfield, 7 (L, 0-49) Oct. 23 | Warhill, 7 (L, 28-36) Oct. 30 | at Poquoson, 7 (L, 7-28) Nov. 5 | at Lafayette, 7 (L, 7-41)
THE STANDOUTS R.J. Morris Sr. | 5-8 | 145 | WR/S
After earning all-state recognition at kick returner a year ago, he’ll be counted in the Trojans’ spread to get the ball in space and go with it.
Davion Barnes Sr. | 5-10 | 190 | RB/S
A speedster with big-play capability, he had several 100-yard games last year, including 187 and two TDs against Warhill, and could be the next in a long line at New Kent to run for more than 1,000 in a season.
John Elswick Sr. | 5-11 | 210 | RB/LB
He’s the Trojans’ best tackler and one of their strongest players.
New coach. Harrell led a turnaround at Smithfield three years ago, when he guided a team 1-9 a year earlier to 10 wins and the Bay Rivers District title. Don’t expect a similar miracle, but he will make the Trojans better. Focus on defense. Harrell said the first order of business will be to improve tackling, a must on a team that allowed 42.2 points a year ago. And he might just succeed. In 2012, he inherited a Smithfield team that had allowed 29 points per game the previous season, and built a defense that gave up just 10.8 points and 145 yards per game en route to the regional final. BEST QB EVER Charles Davis, athletic and
strong-armed, led the Trojans to a 1971 Group A state semifinal, which they lost to Madison County 7-6. Corey Patterson, predominantly a runner in the double wing, quarterbacked the Trojans to two 10-0 regular seasons (1998 and ’99) and regional titles.
BAY RIVERS DISTRICT
ONLINE | Read Marty O’Brien’s Inside the BRD blog at HRVarsity.com and and Facebook. Follow him on Twitter @MartyOBrienDP.
THE VITALS Coach | Elliott Duty
THE VITALS Coach | Reginald Chavis (first year) 2014 | 5-6, 4-5 (sixth) Last time not in playoffs | 2013 Group | 4A Conference | 18 Home field | Smithfield HS SCHEDULE
THE VITALS Coach | Matt Lawson (12th year at
THE VITALS Coach | Thad Wheeler
THE VITALS Coach | Doug Pereira
2014 | 7-4, 6-3 (T-third) Last time not in playoffs | 2012 Group | 3A Conference | 27 Home field | Bailey Field SCHEDULE
Last playoff appearance | 2012 Group | 3A Conference | 25 (Colonial Rivers) Home field | Wanner Stadium SCHEDULE
Last time not in playoffs | 2010 Group | 3A Conference | 27 Home field | Bailey Field SCHEDULE
(10th year, 64-42) 2014 | 9-3, 7-2 (second)
Last time not in playoffs | 2006 Group | 3A Conference | 25 (Colonial Rivers) Home field | Poquoson
Aug. 28 | at Southampton, 7 (W, 33-13) Sept. 11 | Grafton, 7 (W, 26-19) Sept. 18 | Jamestown, 7 (W, 49-0) Sept. 24 | at York, 7 (W, 12-9) Oct. 2 | at Smithfield, 7 (W, 28-25) Oct. 8 | at Warhill, 7 (W, 48-20) Oct. 15 | Lafayette, 7 (L, 14-35) Oct. 23 | Bruton, 7 (L, 7-20) Oct. 30 | New Kent, 7 (W, 28-7) Nov. 6 | at Tabb, 7 (W, 14-13)
THE STANDOUTS Trey Hicks Sr. | 5-10 | 185 | QB/LB
The starter at QB as a freshman and sophomore, Hicks brings his strong arm and leadership back under center after missing most of last season to focus on baseball.
Matt Blaser Sr. | 6-2 | 180 | WR/CB
Blaser is a sure-handed receiver (15 receptions for 214 yards in 2014), one of the program’s best cover guys since Tee McConnell and a sure tackler (53 a year ago).
Brandon Peck Sr. | 6-1 | 210 | TE/DL
A four-year starter and terrific blocking tight end, Peck, who always seems to be around the ball, had a breakthrough season on defense with 78 tackles, eight for loss.
THE STORYLINES Experience in abundance. The
Islanders returned starters at six positions last year versus 19 this year. They can’t much exceed their surprising nine wins of last year, but that experience increases odds their postseason run will be longer. Depth in the backfield. Although star rusher Ethan Bryce graduated, six backs with 21 or more carries, led by Nate Ward (709 yards rushing, 10 TDs), return.
Will the Islanders contend?
Overtaking Lafayette is a tall order, but the Islanders go 25 quality players deep, making a showdown with Lafayette attractive and a lengthy postseason run realistic.
BEST QB EVER George Yeager. One of the best
athletes in school history, hardrunning Yeager spearheaded the program’s move into Group AA with 18 wins in 22 games in 1978 and ’79, then returned in ’89 to coach the Islanders to their first winning record in a decade.
Aug. 28 | King’s Fork, 7 (DNP) Sept. 11 | Bruton, 7 (W, 42-0) Sept. 18 | at Lafayette, 7 (L, 0-28) Sept. 24 | at Warhill, 7 (W, 35-0) Oct. 2 | Poquoson, 7 (L, 25-28) Oct. 10 | at Tabb, 7 (L, 27-40) Oct. 16 | at New Kent, 7 (W, 49-0) Oct. 23 | Jamestown, 7 (W, 56-6) Oct. 30 | at York, 7 (L, 28-42) Nov. 6 | Grafton, 7 (L, 12-33)
THE STANDOUTS Chris Pierce Jr. | 6-3 | 198 | WR/FS
Pierce, one of the area’s top talents, led the Bay Rivers in receptions last season with 44 for 662 yards and eight TDs. He’ll move to safety this season after starring for the defense at linebacker a year ago.
Lowell Patron Sr. | 6-2 | 212 | RB/LB
A former starting QB, Patron will be asked to help fill the void left by departed RB Donald King, while using his considerable size and speed to shore up the defensive middle. .
Nick Turner Sr. | 5-11 | 206 QB
He was plenty solid after taking the reins at midseason, throwing for 833 yards and seven touchdowns. His strong arm and sturdy build should make him a nice fit in Chavis’ spread attack.
THE STORYLINES Chavis takes over. The young
former Booker T. Washington assistant is hungry, bringing an emphasis on academics and getting players recruited by colleges. That’s all good, but in Smithfield, it helps to have a thick skin too. Replacing Donald King. The difficult-to-tackle King rushed for 2,400 yards and 33 touchdowns in 20 games as a freshman and sophomore, before transferring to Isle of Wight Academy and leaving a big hole to fill. Rivalry game. Look for a huge crowd when Route 10 rivals Smithfield and King’s Fork open the season at Smithfield in a game that should preview whether the Packers can contend in the 4A East Region.
BEST QB EVER Leroy Denson. He threw 28 touch-
down passes for the Packers’ 10-0 team in 1969 . That season came after he had thrown for 43 scores in 1968 forWestside.
Tabb, 53-61; 18th year overall, 90-91)
(second year, 3-7) 2014 | 3-7, 3-6 (seventh)
Sept. 3 | Hopewell, 7 (DNP) Sept. 11 | Jamestown, 7 (W, 49-0) Sept. 18 | at New Kent, 7 (W, 56-20) Sept. 25 | at Grafton, 7 (W, 56-10) Oct. 2 | Bruton, 7 (W, 28-0) Oct. 10 | Smithfield, 7 (W, 40-27) Oct. 16 | at York, 7 (L, 20-30) Oct. 23 | at Lafayette, 7 (L, 3-34) Oct. 30 | at Warhill, 7 (W, 35-7) Nov. 6 | Poquoson, 7 (L, 13-14)
Aug. 27 | at Churchland, 7 (L, 14-42) Sept. 11 | at Lafayette, 7 (L, 0-48) Sept. 18 | at York, 7 (L, 2-20) Sept. 24 | Smithfield, 7 (L, 0-35) Oct. 2 | at Jamestown, 7 (W, 49-6) Oct. 8 | Poquoson, 7 (L, 20-48) Oct. 16 | Grafton, 7 (L, 6-14) Oct. 23 | at New Kent, 7 (W, 36-28) Oct. 30 | Tabb, 7 (L, 7-35) Nov. 6 | Bruton, 7 (W, 20-13)
With 23 receptions (six for TDs) and 56 tackles, Hunter was one of the most valuable Tigers in last year’s playoff season. Lawson has moved Hunter from wide receiver to running back to ensure he gets more touches.
On offense, he runs with power and toughness, but can make you miss. Defensively, few Bay Rivers District linebackers are as effective sideline to sideline.
THE STANDOUTS Nick Hunter Sr. | 6-2 | 185 | RB/DB
Zach Schiele Sr. | 6-1 | 250 | OL/DL
The Tigers will run behind their biggest lineman often. He’ll see more time than in the past in the defensive trenches, too.
Rodney Haggins Jr. | 5-8 | 175 | RB/DB
A 145-yard rushing game in the 28-0 win over Bruton was a glimpse of Haggins’ potential. Tabb also will count on his aggressiveness and athleticism at cornerback.
THE STORYLINES Experience at QB. Strong-armed
Alec Kurek started 10 games a year ago, throwing for 1,046 yards and 12 touchdowns, with 367 of those yards and six TDs coming in impressive wins to close the regular season. Moving to 3A. After two seasons in the stacked 4A South Region, the Tigers should find the competition more to their liking if they make the 3A East Region playoffs. Inexperienced defense. The Tigers, quick afoot on defense, must grow up quickly as only two with starting experience return.
BEST QB EVER
The Tigers have had many good quarterbacks, but none who stands head and shoulders above the rest. So, call it a cop-out if you wish: We’ll give kudos to all three who have led the Tigers to state titles: Brian Phillips (1980), Jimmy Thomas (1987) and Wayne Hoskins (1990).
By Marty O’Brien
THE STANDOUTS Bryce Koob Jr. | 5-10 | 185 | RB/LB
Collin Bright Sr. | 5-8 | 170 | RB/ CB
Quick and one of the Lions’ best athletes, his speed and increased strength make him a formidable presence on both sides of the ball.
Nate Tirak Jr. | 6-1 | 365 | OL/DL
Yes, he’s huge, but he’s stronger and has trimmed down more than 30 pounds since last year. That will allow him to showcase his good movement even more.
THE STORYLINES Offensive improvement. The
Lions lost six games last season in which they scored 14 or fewer points. But, with seven starters returning on offense, the Lions should exceed their 15.4 points-pergame average of a year ago. Improvement overall. Secondyear coach Wheeler says the kids are “buying in,” particularly in the weight room, where 60 often showed. Wheeler’s late hiring made things tough a year ago, but the added strength the players have gained in the weight room this year should allow them to push back. QB experience. Tough and determined, look for Bryson Dannewitz to display strong game-management skills this season with a year in Wheeler’s system.
BEST QB EVER DeVonte Dedmon. Moved to
Wildcat QB as a sophomore because he was gifted with some of the best and quickest moves in district history, current William and Mary receiver Dedmon accounted for almost 5,250 yards and 60 touchdowns in his final three seasons, despite missing four games with injuries.
(ninth year, 52-36) 2014 | 7-5, 6-3 (T-third)
Sept. 4 | at James Monroe, 7 (DNP) Sept. 11 | at New Kent, 7 (W, 37-6) Sept. 18 | Warhill, 7 (W, 20-2) Sept. 24 | Poquoson, 7 (L, 9-12) Oct. 3 | at Lafayette, 7 (L, 0-28) Oct. 9: at Bruton, 7 (W, 35-0) Oct. 16 | Tabb, 7 (W, 30-20) Oct. 23 | at Grafton, 7 (L, 14-24) Oct. 30 | Smithfield, 7 (W, 42-28) Nov. 7 | Jamestown, 2 (W, 40-10)
THE STANDOUTS Darius Reynolds Sr. | 6-3 | 235 | DL/TE
A dominant force on the defensive line since his freshman season, Reynolds, who averaged eight tackles per game last year, continues to get bigger, stronger and faster. Look for him to play a bigger role on offense this season, perhaps even running the ball some.
Devin Campbell Sr. |5-10 | 182 | RB/LB
A determined and effective tackler, Campbell will step into a larger rushing role as a senior.
Luke Gilbert Sr. | 6-3 | 193 | WR/DE
A huge target with a knack for getting to any ball thrown near him (almost 30 catches for better than 600 yards a year ago), Gilbert will display that athleticism more often on defense this year.
Where will Reynolds sign? Army or Navy? William and Mary or Richmond? Harvard or Yale? Many of his Division I offers put him on one end or the other of academically prestigious, fierce rivalries. Are we underselling the Falcons? No doubt the Falcons see
themselves better than their predicted fourth-place finish, and if sophomore QB Cole Lytle thrives, they are surely right. Offensive options. The Falcons’ offensive line is the biggest in program history, averaging nearly 6-foot-2, 280 pounds. It should give the Falcons the option of running inside and Lytle the time to get the ball to talented receivers Gilbert and Isiah Hawkins.
BEST QB EVER
Who knows? From Charles Christian’s 20 TD passes in 1967 to Alex Johnston’s nearly 4,000 career yards passing (ending in 2011), and
Judson Moore, Robb Berryman (1988 regional title) and Brian Ginn (3,389 career yards passing in the mid-’90s) in between, it’s an impossible call.
Sunday, August 23, 2015 DAILY PRESS
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16 DAILY PRESS Sunday, August 23, 2015
A new career phase Virginia QBs get ready to take on their big gigs
By Dave Johnson and Norm Wood
email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
By the time the average college quarterback is done playing, he’ll have collected enough advice on how to earn a starting job from coaches, gurus, TV talking heads, girlfriends, buddies and well-meaning family members to fill a tome thicker than his playbook. The truth is paths to starting in the most glamorous of positions rarely are the same. They often require a decidedly unglamorous route. Some guys, like Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer and Hampton University’s David Watford, have to pack their bags and seek the right scenario in a place they didn’t originally think they’d find it. Others have to stick it out long enough in their current situation to get their one big chance — either as the beneficiary of players transferring around him, like Virginia’s
Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer, right, is the first starting quarterback offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has gotten to work with for more than one season since the 2006 and ’07 seasons. DAILY PRESS FILE PHOTO
Matt Johns, or through a high-intensity preseason competition like the one Christopher Newport’s Arsaiah Robinson and Tyler Quigley are experiencing. Then, there are the quarterbacks such as Old Dominion’s Shuler Bentley, who serve as the understudy to a campus legend before getting their own shot. A player such as William and Mary’s Steve Cluley may have the biggest advantage of any quarterback — the opportunity to grow and mature in the starter’s role while learning from a veteran coach. These are the stories of quarterbacks from around the commonwealth who either have earned the right to command the huddle, or are on the verge of doing it. VIRGINIA TECH: PASSING THE TEST WITH FLYING COLORS
If the answers don’t come easy, Brewer knows he deserves to wear the dunce cap. At this stage in his career, it’s imperative he correctly responds to every question Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler throws at him. So, when Loeffler plopped a test in front of every freshly tanned offensive player after they returned to campus from spring break, Brewer realized Loeffler expected near-perfection from his second-year starting quarterback. Brewer didn’t disappoint. “I got 100, but I should get 100,” said Brewer, a 6-foot-1, 198-pound senior from Texas who completed 59.4 percent of his passes last season for 2,692 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. “That’s part of my role to know everything that goes on with the defense and offense.” Brewer is in a much different place now than he was when he first transferred last May to Virginia Tech from Texas Tech, where he played in 13 games as a backup over two seasons on the field. When he first got to Blacksburg, just learning how to take the snap from center was an adventure. It’s not something he ever did in Lubbock. Learning Loeffler’s pro-style offense in less than three months before the opener also was brain-numbing. Beyond 7-on-7 work in the summer and preseason practices, Brewer didn’t have much opportunity to get timing down with his new wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. “Brewer was guessing where they’d be,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. Now, Brewer and Loeffler are getting a rare opportunity together — rare for Loeffler anyway. Brewer is the first starting quarterback Loeffler has gotten to work with for more than one season since the 2006 and ’07 seasons, when Loeffler was the quarterbacks coach at Michigan and tutored Chad Henne. Acing the post-spring-break test was an important milestone for Brewer. Of course, if he hadn’t nailed the exam, he would’ve never heard the end of it from Loeffler. The bar has been raised. “He would’ve been very upset with me,” Brewer said. “If I hadn’t have gotten 100, it better have been that I missed one and it was because I misspelled something. “Oh, yeah, he’ll take off points for that.” See QBS/Page 17
17 Sunday, August 23, 2015 DAILY PRESS LEFT: Old Dominion QB Shuler Bentley throws a pass during a drill at practice Aug. 10. RIGHT: William and Mary QB Steve Cluley looks for a pass during a game this past season. LEFT PHOTO BY KAITLIN MCKEOWN/ RIGHT FILE PHOTO BY JONATHON GRUENKE
QBs Continued from 16 ODU: FILLING THE BIG CLEATS
Aaron Rodgers stepped in when Brett Favre retired, and he’s done all right. Brian Griese took over for John Elway, and he … well, not so much. In replacing the man who was the face of ODU’s program the last four years, Bentley won’t have to handle that kind of pressure. At 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds, he has similar size to that of Taylor Heinicke. But that doesn’t mean the Monarchs are expecting him to be a duplicate — at least, not right away. “We’ll treat him like (Thomas) DeMarco, when he was a first-year quarterback, and Heinicke in his first year,” ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. “We’ll play to his strengths, and we’ll do things offensively to support and benefit him. “There’s certainly no expectation that he’ll step right in and do exactly what Taylor Heinicke did. The plan early on isn’t to ask him to win the football games but to manage the games and grow into the position.” Bentley will have something that neither DeMarco nor Heinicke had in their first seasons: a 1,000-yard threat at running back. As a freshman, Ray Lawry rushed for 947 yards and 16 touchdowns despite averaging only 11 carries a game. His presence will ease
the burden. And here’s something else Bentley has: the benefit of a redshirt year. “Shuler had a year to learn the system and spend with Taylor, work with him in practice, watch him in games,” Wilder said. “I feel strongly that any freshman quarterback who redshirts, you get substantially ahead of the curve. He’s had a year to settle into that role and be himself.” Bentley has the credentials. At Byrnes High in Duncan, S.C., he threw for 5,032 yards and 71 (no typo) touchdowns as a senior. That was the fall of 2013. “It’s been two years since he’s played in a meaningful game,” Wilder said. “But I’m really confident, based on his personality, that he’s not going to be overwhelmed by the moment.” W&M: BRINGING THE STABILITY
In his 35 seasons as head coach at W&M, Jimmye Laycock has had a surplus of fine quarterbacks. Among them: Stan Yagiello, David Corley, Jake Phillips, Lang Campbell and Shawn Knight. But since 2009, when R.J. Archer led the Tribe to the NCAA semifinals, the quarterback position has been in flux. W&M returned to the postseason in ’10 with three different starters, but it hasn’t been back since. Last year, Cluley gave W&M the stability it had been lacking since Archer’s senior year. He started every game and was efficient, completing 57 percent of his throws for 2,048 yards, 11 touchdowns and four
interceptions. And he’s back for his junior season. “I was very pleased with him,” Laycock said. “I mean, he wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty consistent week in and week out. He grew as the season went on. He took that forward into spring ball, and hopefully he’ll take it into the season and play with a great deal of confidence. “He exhibited something at quarterback that we really like, which is not only the physical toughness but the mental toughness. He played the whole season and he was banged up. But he hung in there and he kept competing, and he earned the respect of his coaches and his teammates.” Making things tougher for Cluley was what happened, seemingly on a weekly basis, in front of him. The offensive line was decimated by injuries, so much so that eight different linemen started at least twice. “I think that just added more credibility to what Steve was able to do at quarterback,” Laycock said. Though the line and tailback Mikal Abdul-Saboor (1,317 yards, 12 TDs) return, Cluley did lose his top two receivers in Tre McBride and Sean Ballard. Among the returnees, only Warhill High graduate DeVonte Dedmon had more than five receptions last season. But Laycock isn’t worried. Not with Cluley returning. “We know what to expect with him,” he said. See QBS/Page 18
18 DAILY PRESS Sunday, August 23, 2015
“(David Watford is) a dual-threat quarterback. He’s fast and has a big arm and great leadership. He has everything we look for in a quarterback.” —Hampton University coach Connell Maynor on quarterback David Watford, below.
QBs Continued from 17 U.VA.: RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
In mid-May, the landscape suddenly changed in Charlottesville for Johns. No longer was he staring at a summer where he’d have to measure himself throw-for-throw in 7-on-7s and drills with another quarterback. Incumbent starter Greyson Lambert transferred to Georgia. For a few days, it looked like backup Corwin Cutler might bolt U.Va. as well, but he decided to return. Almost by default, Johns was U.Va.’s man under center, but it was no accident. He’d done enough to emerge from spring practices tied atop the depth chart with Lambert, but Lambert’s departure just made Johns’ ascension official. Good-natured and nearly universally liked by teammates, Johns immediately started to assert himself. “This whole summer, (wide receiver) Canaan (Severin), myself and the captains and a lot of other guys really took control,” said Johns, a 6-5, 210-pound junior from Pennsylvania who started three games last season when Lambert was injured. “That’s what we needed around here. I think that’s going to make a big difference this season.” With Johns representing by far the most experienced quarterback on his roster, U.Va. coach Mike London has heightened expectations for his new starter. It’s a make-or-break year for London, and Johns will have to shoulder the pressure of leading a largely unproven offense. “I want to see all the things that he learned and accomplished during the season and spring practice just to take it and springboard it from there,” London said. “We’re playing for keeps (in the Sept. 5 season-opener at UCLA). He seems to be very confident about who he is, where he is. His football knowledge has increased tremendously. Our players respect him, so it’ll be fun to watch him perform as we move forward.” Johns still has plenty of competition around him. Cutler, a redshirt freshman, is back. Junior Connor Brewer, a graduate transfer from Arizona who started his college career at Texas, could emerge as the most equipped challenger for the starting job. Freshman Nick Johns, who is no relation to Matt, also is taking reps this month. No stranger to competition, Johns takes it all in stride. “This is what you work hard for,” Johns said. “Fortunately, it paid off. It doesn’t stop here though. I still have to prepare like I’m the backup quarterback, or even the third or fourth, because that’s what got me here. I’m going to keep doing what has worked.” HU: COMING HOME FOR A NEW START
Here’s how much confidence Hampton University coach Connell Maynor has in Watford, a homegrown quarterback who spent three seasons at the University of Virginia before relocating: The Pirates’ starting quarterback last season, Jaylian "J.J." Williamson, threw for a school-record 407 yards in HU’s loss at Old Dominion. He’s back. But the minute Watford announced he was coming, Maynor told him and the media that the job was his to lose.
THE DAILY PROGRESS FILE PHOTO
As Virginia QB Matt Johns (15) represents the most experienced quarterback on his roster, head coach Mike London has heightened expectations for his new starter.
In other words, the job is Watford’s. “He didn’t go (FBS) for no reason,” Maynor said. “He was highly recruited coming out of high school (with the Hampton Crabbers). He’s a dual-threat quarterback. He’s fast and has a big arm and great leadership. He has everything we look for in a quarterback.” In three seasons with U.Va., Watford passed for 2,593 yards and 11 touchdowns (and 19 interceptions) while rushing for 255 yards and three scores. He played as a true freshman in 2011 before redshirting the following year. He started every game in ’13 and had some nice moments, like a school-record 43 completions for 376 yards against Georgia Tech. But he threw nearly twice as many interceptions (15) as touchdown passes (eight), and U.Va. finished 2-10. Watford barely played in ’14 as Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns went back and forth. So after the season, he decided to leave — and come home. “I’ve been enjoying it and having fun ever since I’ve been here,” Watford said in the spring. “That’s the biggest thing. Just being back home gave me that energy and that joy. It just rejuvenated me.” Having a talented and deep group of receivers certainly doesn’t hurt. Twarn Mixson, Rayshad Riddick, Rashawn Proctor and SeQuan Gooding combined for 168 catches, 2,006 yards and 17 touchdowns last year. They’re all returning. In the spring game, Watford threw a pair of touchdown passes to Riddick. “He picked up our offense in the spring and had a really good spring game,” Maynor said. “He’s a smart quarterback on and off the field.” See QBS/Page 19
Hampton University’s new quarterback David Watford goes to throw the football during HU’s football practice in Hampton on Aug. 10. ADAM PENNAVARIA/DAILY PRESS PHOTO
—Christopher Newport coach Matt Kelchner, on QBs Arsaiah Robinson, below, and Tyler Quigley
ADAM PENNAVARIA/DAILY PRESS PHOTOS
ABOVE: QB Tyler Quigley, center, hands off the ball for a drill during CNU’s practice in Newport News Aug. 13. RIGHT: QB Arsaiah Robinson throws the ball during practice. On Sept. 5, Robinson or Quigley will take over CNU’s offense.
“They’re both seniors. They’re not rookies. We’re not changing because of those guys. They’re both capable of doing what we’ve done.” Continued from 18 Robinson was Morrast’s backup in 2014 and came out of spring practice No. 1 on the depth chart. He played in every game last season except the playoff loss to Widener CNU: CARRYING THE SAME LOAD and had his moments: 15-of-28 passing, 117 yards, two With 302 total yards per game, Marcus Morrast was No. touchdowns, no interceptions. Plus, the aforementioned 23 in the nation last season. He’ll be missed, to be sure, but 50-yard touchdown run against N.C. Wesleyan. Christopher Newport coach Matt Kelchner isn’t sobbing Quigley attempted only two passes last season, but in the fetal position under his desk. Kelchner said he’d feel comfortable with either senior. On Sept. 5, either Robinson or Quigley will take over “They both bring very, very strong CNU’s offense and be expected to do the attributes,” he said. “They can both run same things Morrast did. OK, maybe not and pass, so we won’t change our offense 302 total yards per game, but they’d More online for either one. Arsaiah is probably a little better be ready to run the offense and be Keep up with college football quicker running; Tyler probably has a just as efficient. news at dailypress.com/ better understanding of the passing game “Heck yeah, they’ll have to carry the sports. And be sure to follow and the reads.” same load,” Kelchner said. “They’ve us at twitter.com/DP_Sports Kelchner isn’t one who believes you both played in games. We had to take and facebook.com/dpsports. must have one quarterback set in stone. Marcus out in the second half at “When they say, ‘If you have two Huntingdon, and Arsaiah played the quarterbacks, you don’t have a quarterback,’ that’s a bunch whole second half. At North Carolina Wesleyan, we put of hogwash,” he said. “Ask (Ohio State coach) Urban him in the first half and he broke a 50-yard run for a Meyer. If I have two center, I’m going to play them.” touchdown that really sparked us.
19 Sunday, August 23, 2015 DAILY PRESS
“They’re both seniors. They’re not rookies. We’re not changing because of those guys. They’re both capable of doing what we’ve done.”
20 DAILY PRESS Sunday, August 23, 2015
COLLEGE VIRGINIA TECH 2014 | 7-6, 3-5 ACC
Last postseason appearance | 2014 (beat Cincinnati 33-17 in the Military Bowl)
ONLINE | Follow Norm Wood on Twitter at @normwood
FRANK BEAMER 35th year (273-138-4; entering 29th season at Tech, where he’s 231-115-2) There are two ways Beamer could look at all the questions he receives these days about when he’s going to retire. On one hand, it’s an uneasy consequence of Tech’s relative decline in the last three years, during which the Hokies have been 22-17 on the heels of eight consecutive 10-plus-win seasons. The other is to look at it as a natural curiosity directed toward a coaching icon who has been both successful enough and fortunate enough to coach until he’s 68 years old while spending nearly three decades at his alma mater. Nearly 40 pounds lighter than he was last season after having December throat surgery, the whispers regarding Beamer’s future started to get a little louder in the offseason. To his credit, he insists he’ll know when it’s time to hang up the whistle. For now, he’s only interested in adding more wins to a résumé that already features the most victories by any active Bowl Subdivision coach and extending a streak of 22 straight seasons with a bowl appearance. They just renamed the street that runs in front of Lane Stadium after him — Beamer Way.
Sept. 7 | Ohio State | 8 p.m. An eagerly awaited rematch after Tech’s 35-21 upset win last season in Columbus, Ohio, became even more intriguing when Ohio State suspended four key players in July for the game. Sept. 12 | Furman | 3:30 p.m. The cakewalk on Tech’s early slate before it hits the road in back-to-back weeks for non-conference games. Sept. 19 | at Purdue | 3:30 p.m. After finishing in the bottom of the Big Ten last season with a 3-9 record, Purdue has back 15 starters. Sept. 26 | at East Carolina | TBA ECU has been a serious pain for Tech in the last three meetings. It wouldn’t be stunning to see this game decided by a field goal either way. Oct. 3 | Pittsburgh | TBA Tech’s midseason spiral last season started at Pitt, where the Hokies lost 21-16. Tech went on to lose four games in a five-game October/November stretch. Oct. 9 | North Carolina State | 8 p.m. A Friday night affair in Blacksburg should bring an even more raucous atmosphere than a Thursday night game at Lane. N.C. State’s Jacoby Brissett was one of three quarterbacks in the nation last season with more than 2,000 passing yards, 300 rushing yards, 20 TDs and five or fewer interceptions. Oct. 17 | at Miami | TBA It got ugly in Lane last season, as Miami cruised to a 30-6 beatdown against Tech, rolling up 364 rushing yards. Oct. 24 | Duke | TBA The last two meetings have generated thrilling results. A hard-fought 17-16 win last season in Durham, N.C., helped Tech snap a three-game skid. Oct. 31 | at Boston College | TBA BC is aiming for its first three-game winning streak against Tech. BC held on last season for a 33-31 win in Blacksburg. It was one of five losses Tech suffered last season by seven points or fewer. Nov. 12 | at Georgia Tech | 7:30 p.m. In a game that could determine the ACC’s Coastal Division, VT will have to slow down QB Justin Thomas. Last season, he ran for 165 yards and a TD on 22 carries in GT’s 27-24 win at Lane. Nov. 21 | North Carolina | TBA UNC will have to be a lot better on defense than it was last season (surrendered ACC-worst averages of 39 points and 497.8 yards per game) if it hopes to get closer to Tech than it did last season in the Hokies’ 34-17 victory in Chapel Hill. Nov. 28 | at Virginia | TBA Tech’s winning streak in the series has reached 11 . Given the Hokies’ dominance in the rivalry, the question is: Will Frank Beamer ever lose again to the Cavs?
THE STANDOUTS Kendall Fuller Jr. | 5-11 | 197 | CB It’s almost a foregone conclusion he’ll turn pro after this season, and why not, considering he’s likely a lock to be a first-round selection in the NFL draft. Last season, he tied for the ACC lead with 17 passes defended, including two interceptions. He’s back to 100 percent after having January wrist surgery. Dadi Nicolas Sr. | 6-4 | 236 | DE He’s come a long way from his early days in Blacksburg, when defensive line coach Charley Wiles said Nicolas had all the speed necessary to get to quarterbacks, but learning the defense was like speaking a different language to him. Now, he’s coming off a season in which he led Tech with 18 1⁄2 tackles for loss, including nine sacks. Bucky Hodges So. | 6-6 | 249 | TE A budding success story from a player who came to Tech as a highly recruited quarterback before switching positions during his redshirt year. Last season, he had 45 catches, which were the most from a Tech freshman tight end, for 526 yards and six touchdowns. He also might play some at wide receiver.
MATT GENTRY/THE ROANOKE TIMES
QB Michael Brewer passes from behind the offensive line during Tech’s spring game.
THE STORYLINES LOGJAM IN THE BACKFIELD At least Tech isn’t short on bodies at tailback. The problem is that none of Tech’s running backs qualify yet as the established go-to guy. Senior J.C. Coleman is coming off a five-game stretch to end last season in which he ran for 468 yards, including a Tech bowl-record 157 yards in its win against Cincinnati in the Military Bowl. Junior Trey Edmunds is healthy, but he’s had to recover from a broken tibia and a broken clavicle since leading Tech in rushing two seasons ago (675 yards in 2013). Sophomore Shai McKenzie is back after being indefinitely suspended, but he’s suspended for the Ohio State game and returning from injury. Phoebus High alum Marshawn Williams, another sophomore, also has to show he hasn’t lost anything after tearing his ACL last season. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is optimistic a starting offensive line that has been entrenched since the start of the spring will be able to block effectively for whomever carries the ball. NATION’S BEST DEFENSIVE LINE? If it’s not the best, it’s at least in the conversation. Senior Dadi Nicolas and junior Ken Ekanem are back after combining for 18 1⁄2 sacks last season at defensive end. Senior defensive tackle Corey Marshall (9 1⁄2 tackles for loss last season) is one of Tech’s most flexible players. With the return of senior DT Luther Maddy from a torn meniscus in his knee that caused him to miss all but four games last season, Tech is deep up front. Tech also can lean on junior Nigel Williams, who started 10 games last season. Sophomore Ricky Walker, a Bethel High graduate, junior Woody Baron, redshirt freshman Steve Sobczak and true freshman Tim Settle are contenders for playing time at defensive tackle. Depth is an issue at end, where sophomore Seth Dooley and redshirt freshman Vinny Mihota are looking to make impacts in Tech’s rotation at the position. FITTING TOGETHER THE PIECES IN THE SECONDARY One of the most welcome sights for defensive coordinator Bud Foster was the return of a healthy, active Brandon Facyson at the start of preseason practices. While Facyson’s recovery from two broken bones in his leg helps stabilize the cornerback position, there’s uncertainty at strong safety. The dismissal of projected starter C.J. Reavis during the offseason created a void at safety that Tech hopes to fill with junior Desmond Frye and senior Donovan Riley. Junior All-American Kendall Fuller is one of the nation’s best at cornerback, while junior Chuck Clark will start this season at free safety. Sophomore Greg Stroman, who also could play at wide receiver, is expected to fill the nickel-back role at which Clark excelled last season. Freshman Mook Reynolds could get on the field at cornerback, and freshman Adonis Alexander should have a shot at contributing at safety.
BY NORM WOOD
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Sunday, August 23, 2015 DAILY PRESS
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22 DAILY PRESS Sunday, August 23, 2015
COLLEGE VIRGINIA 2014 | 5-7, 3-5 ACC
Last postseason appearance | 2011 (lost 43-24 to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl)
THE COACH MIKE LONDON Eighth year (47-43 overall; entering sixth season at U.Va., where he’s 23-38) When London arrived at Virginia before the 2010 season, he was considered the potential savior for a program that started to head the wrong direction on the field under former coach Al Groh. London was one of the promising upand-comers, fresh off the 2008 Championship Subdivision national title and ’09 national semifinals as the coach at Richmond. His riveting backstory didn’t hurt — a Bethel High grad, former Richmond police officer and champion of bone-marrow donation causes after seeing his oldest daughter, Ticynn, undergo life-saving bone-marrow transplant surgery. It all seemed ripe for a storybook ride in Charlottesville. After a 4-8 season in 2010, London led U.Va. to an 8-5 record in ’11, with a loss to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl — a big leap forward for the Cavaliers, but one that hasn’t been sustainable to this point. Recruiting has been London’s strong suit, particularly in Hampton Roads, but three straight losing seasons have London on the hot seat with a brutal schedule ahead.
THE STANDOUTS Quin Blanding So. | 6-2 | 215 | FS After he finished the regular season second in the ACC and 12th in the nation with a U.Va. freshman-record 123 tackles, the bar has been set high for a Blanding encore. The All-America candidate and reigning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year’s strength is his ability to anticipate where players are headed before the ball is snapped. Ross Burbank Sr. | 6-4 | 300 | OG With 33 games of college experience, including 16 starts at center and guard in the last two seasons, Burbank is the undisputed leader of what has been an unstable U.Va. offensive line. He’s a physical player who isn’t afraid to scrap in the trenches with opposing defensive linemen, giving the Cavaliers’ offense a much-needed mean streak up front. David Dean Sr. | 6-1 | 295 | DT He’ll play a critical role this season, pushing the pocket and helping U.Va. re-establish its pass rush. Dean had 40 tackles last season, including eight for losses. U.Va. will need those numbers again this season to be close to as strong against the run as it was last year.
ONLINE | Follow Norm Wood on Twitter at @normwood
Freshman linebacker C.J. Stalker runs drills during spring practice this past March. Three straight losing seasons have coach Mike London on the hot seat with a second straight brutal schedule ahead. FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
THE STORYLINES NAVIGATING ANOTHER RUGGED GANTLET After playing a schedule last season that featured home games against UCLA and Louisville and road games at Brigham Young, Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech, U.Va.’s returning players could only exhale for a few moments. This season’s schedule is arguably even more of a nightmare. U.Va. went 1-6 in those aforementioned seven games (four of the losses came by eight points or fewer), so the hope in Charlottesville is maybe the struggles of last season will help the Cavaliers in big spots this season. Perhaps Miami — which hosts Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia Tech and must travel to Cincinnati, FSU, Duke, UNC and Pittsburgh — can boast a schedule comparable to U.Va.’s in terms of degree of difficulty among ACC programs, but the Cavaliers’ rocky path in the opening month can’t be matched. IS JOHNS READY FOR THE SPOTLIGHT? Matt Johns has talked about taking more of a leadership role this season. He has no choice. With Greyson Lambert and Hampton High graduate David Watford having transferred in the offseason, Johns is the only quarterback on U.Va.’s roster who has thrown a pass in a college game. He’s a fairly mobile 6-foot-5, which should serve him well as U.Va.’s offensive line continues to mesh. Quarterback has been a volatile position for London. In his first five seasons at U.Va., he had six quarterbacks gain starts, including three starts last season for Johns. After completing just 54.9 percent of his passes last season for 1,109 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions, accuracy and arm strength are two of the biggest concern areas surrounding Johns. FIND THE GUYS TO BRING THE HEAT With outside linebacker Max Valles (team-high nine sacks, 12 1⁄2 tackles for loss), middle linebacker Henry Coley (eight sacks, 12 1⁄2 tackles for loss) and defensive end Eli Harold (seven sacks, 14 1⁄2 tackles for loss) gone, defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta needs to identify players who can get in the backfield. U.Va. was fourth in the ACC last season with 34 sacks, but players responsible for 27 of those sacks just played their senior seasons. That’s a lot of talent to replace, but Tenuta was born with whatever gene makes coordinators obsess about pressuring quarterbacks present in his DNA. He knows no other way. Now, the responsibility of harassing quarterbacks will fall on players such as defensive ends Mike Moore and Kwontie Moore, defensive tackle David Dean and one or two of the three new starting linebackers U.Va. will rely on this season.
BY NORM WOOD
Sept. 5 | at UCLA | 3:30 p.m. The Bruins had just 242 yards in their 28-20 win last season in C’ville. A performance rivaling or topping that one this season from U.Va. will be a tall order. Sept. 12 | Notre Dame | 3:30 p.m. It’s been 26 years since U.Va. and Notre Dame last met (36-13 win by No. 20ranked Fighting Irish in East Rutherford, N.J.). Notre Dame has to replace Everett Golson at QB, but has 17 starters back. Sept. 19 | William and Mary | 3:30 p.m. W&M isn’t too far removed from its 26-14 win in Scott Stadium (2009), but when it came to Charlottesville in ’11, U.Va. won 40-3. Cavs need something akin to ’11 effort to build confidence. Sept. 25 | Boise State | 8 p.m. Another team with 17 returning starters and a new starting QB comes to C’ville. Oct. 10 | at Pittsburgh | TBA QB Chad Voytik, reigning ACC Player of the Year James Conner at RB and WR Tyler Boyd give the Panthers a trio of the conference’s most explosive players. Oct. 17 | Syracuse | TBA After going 4-4 in the ACC two years ago in its first season in the conference, Syracuse dropped to 1-7 last season in the ACC. The teams haven’t met since 2005 (a 27-24 U.Va. road win). Oct. 24 | at North Carolina | TBA No loss stung U.Va. more last season than its 28-27 heartbreaker at home against UNC, which scored the winning touchdown with 4:05 left on a drive set up by an interception thrown by U.Va.’s Greyson Lambert. A late substitution infraction against U.Va. on a fourthand-2 for UNC doomed the Cavaliers. Oct. 31 | Georgia Tech | TBA U.Va. has struggled against Georgia Tech’s option, losing five of their last six meetings. The losses have come by an average margin of 21.6 points. Nov. 7 | at Miami | TBA Miami won 45-26 two years ago in U.Va.’s last trip to South Florida. Last season, U.Va.’s 30-13 home win was one of the Cavaliers’ most complete games. Nov. 14 | at Louisville | TBA U.Va.’s 23-21 home victory last season against No. 21 Louisville was the Cavaliers’ first win against a ranked opponent in nearly three years. Nov. 21 | Duke | TBA U.Va. has lost to Duke in six of the last seven seasons, including last year’s 20-13 setback in Durham. Nov. 28 | Virginia Tech | TBA Stop us if you’ve heard this before — Tech has won 11 consecutive meetings and 15 of the last 16. Ending Tech’s run has been one of U.Va.’s biggest goals.
Last playoff berth | 2012 (lost 49-35 to Georgia Southern in FCS quarterfinal)
ONLINE | Follow Dave Johnson at @DaveJohnsonDP
BOBBY WILDER Seventh year (52-20, all with ODU) Before Wilder coached his first game at Old Dominion, he was a salesman. Not the door-to-door type who happened to have the best vacuum cleaner ever made. No, he was peddling something that didn’t exist in the tangible sense — ODU football, which was returning after a 69-year absence. Wilder revved up the fan base with his infectious enthusiasm and gift for gab, proving he could sell. But could he deliver? Six years in, the Monarchs have won 74 percent of their games and fast-tracked their way from the FCS to the FBS. ODU has become a model on how to start a football program, and Wilder has become a hot name. Athlon listed him among the top 15 coaches on the rise. But Wilder, who spent 40 of his first 42 years in Maine before coming here, is home. “This program is incredibly special to me,” he said. “I don’t take full credit for it, but I helped start this. If you’re part of something from the ground up that’s had a measure of success, you feel a strong sense of loyalty.”
Sept. 5 | at Eastern Michigan | 3 p.m. The Eagles are coming off three consecutive 2-10 seasons. Though on the road, this should be a smooth opener for the Monarchs in Ypsilanti. Sept. 12 | Norfolk State | 7 p.m. The Spartans are under new management with Latrell Scott. ODU won the last meeting 27-24 in 2013 on Jarod Brown’s 24-yard field goal at the gun. Sept. 19 | N.C. State | 7 p.m. ODU led 21-10 late in the second quarter but ended up losing 46-34 last year in Raleigh. QB Jacoby Brissett is back. Sept. 26 | Appalachian State | 3:30 p.m. The Mountaineers were 1-5 on Oct. 11 but won their final six games to post their 20th winning season in 21 years. Oct. 3 | at Marshall | 3:30 p.m. The Herd went 13-1 last season, throttling ODU 56-14 along the way, and finished No. 23 in the Associated Press poll. Oct. 17 | Charlotte | 3:30 p.m. This will be the 49ers’ first season on the FBS level. Not surprisingly, they’re picked last in the East. Oct. 24 | at Florida International | 6 p.m. Three of FIU’s C-USA losses were by three points, two coming on a field goal in the final minute. Oct. 31 | Western Kentucky | TBA. The Hilltoppers had some wild scores last season, like 59-31 (win), 50-47 (loss), 67-66 (win) and 49-48 (win). Oh, and a 66-51 win over Old Dominion. Nov. 7 | at UTSA | 7 p.m. Under former Miami coach Larry Coker, the Roadrunners’ first four games are against Arizona, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Colorado State. Nov. 14 | UTEP | TBA. The Miners’ 7-6 season, their best in nine years, included a 42-35 win over Old Dominion. Autrey Golden had a career day with two touchdowns. Nov. 21 | at Southern Miss | 3:30 p.m. The Golden Eagles finished 3-9, but they were 1-23 over the previous two seasons. Nov. 28 | Florida Atlantic | Noon. ODU won last year’s game 31-28 on a 27-yard field goal by Satchel Ziffer.
THE STANDOUTS Ray Lawry So. | 5-10 | 201 | RB As a freshman, Lawry broke ODU’s season records for rushing yards (968) and average yards per carry (7.1). His 16 TDs are the most by a running back. So it should come as no surprise that he was named the Conference USA Freshman of the Year. He averaged 11 carries a game, a number you could safely expect to increase. Zach Pascal Jr. | 6-2 | 214 | WR Pascal caught 59 passes for 743 yards and seven TDs last season, making him the Monarchs’ top returning receiver. His 45-yard catch against Rice set up the game-winning field goal. With the Monarchs breaking in a new quarterback, Pascal’s dependability will be a key. T.J. Ricks Jr. | 6-0 | 226 | LB Ricks was a tackling machine back in his days at Kecoughtan, and he hasn’t changed. His 80 stops were second on the team last season. He had 2.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss, both second on the team. Ricks also forced a Monarch-leading four fumbles.
KAITLIN MCKEOWN/DAILY PRESS PHOTO
QB Shuler Bentley throws a pass during practice Aug. 10. ODU has big goals this year.
THE STORYLINES CHANGING OF THE GUARD How do you replace a quarterback like Taylor Heinicke, who threw for 14,958 yards and 132 touchdowns in four years? Wilder doesn’t want redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley to look at it that way as he takes over. Bentley won’t be asked to do the same things Heinicke was, like run a no-huddle spread and put up 40 passes a game. With near-1,000-yard rusher Ray Lawry behind him and five starters returning up front, Bentley will have the luxury of not having to carry the load. ODU also plans to run a more traditional offense, one that will emphasize the running game and time-consuming drives rather than scoring as quickly as possible. DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT From the beginning, Old Dominion has been known for having a quick-scoring offense and a defense that struggles to keep pace. Last season, the Monarchs lost games in which they scored 51, 35, 34 and 28 (twice) points. Among C-USA’s 13 teams, ODU finished ninth in total defense (452 yards per game) and 11th in scoring defense (38.0 points per game). But upon closer inspection, the Monarchs showed improvement in the final three games of the season — which, not by coincidence, were all wins. ODU held the opposition to 30 points and 351 yards a game, hardly satisfactory but certainly a positive step. Part of the reason is that the offensive philosophy changed in favor of time-consuming drives. So the defense wasn’t on the field as much. GOING BOWLING? Wilder makes no attempts to hide it — the goals are high this season. For one, ODU wants to compete (Wilder emphasizes that word) for C-USA’s East Division championship. With Western Kentucky and Marshall there, that won’t be easy. The second goal is to receive a bowl bid, which would be the first in ODU history. At 6-6 last season, ODU was one of the eight C-USA teams that were eligible but one of three that weren’t selected. If the defense keeps progressing, and if Bentley can manage the offense effectively, guys in ugly sports coats (i.e., bowl scouts) might be seen at Ballard Stadium. Which could mean another milestone in this program’s rapid rise.
BY DAVE JOHNSON
CONFERENCE USA The return of QB Brandon Doughty, who threw for 4,830 yards and 49 TDs last season, should make Western Kentucky the team to beat (over Marshall) in the East. Louisiana Tech, which won the Heart of Dallas Bowl last year, is picked to win the West. The addition of Charlotte gives the conference 13 members and unbalanced divisions.
Sunday, August 23, 2015 DAILY PRESS
2014 | 6-6, 4-4 Conference USA
COLLEGE OLD DOMINION
24 DAILY PRESS Sunday, August 23, 2015
COLLEGE WILLIAM AND MARY
2014 | 7-5, 4-4 CAA
Last playoff berth | 2010 (lost 31-15 to Georgia Southern in FCS second round)
ONLINE | Follow Dave Johnson at @DaveJohnsonDP
Jimmye Laycock 36th season (229-170-2, all at W&M) Coaches come and go in college football, where the shelf life is only slightly longer than a banana’s. But not in Jimmye Laycock’s case. Since the fall of 1980, when Jimmy Carter was still president, he’s been the head coach of his alma mater. No active coach has been at his current school longer — Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, a close friend, is third on that list. In his 35 years, William and Mary has had 23 winning seasons and made nine playoff appearances, advancing as far as the national semifinals twice. Not to mention exemplary graduation rates and nary a brush with the NCAA. Naturally, other schools — big-name schools — have come calling over the years. The NFL’s San Diego Chargers wanted him as an assistant. But here he remains, 67 years old but giving no hint of retirement plans. It’s been five years since William and Mary made the NCAA playoffs, but Laycock likes what he sees for 2015. “I feel optimistic, but I’m also realistic,” he said. “I’ve seen things happen that there’s no way to predict. There are so many variables. All we can do is work and try to take care of things we can control.”
Sept. 5 | at Lafayette | 6 p.m. The Tribe had to rally from a 19-9 halftime deficit to win 33-19 last season behind QB Steve Cluley’s two rushing TDs. Sept. 19 | at Virginia | 3:30 p.m. W&M beat the Cavaliers 26-14 in 2009, helping seal Al Groh’s fate, but U.Va. got revenge two years later with a 40-3 win. Sept. 26 | Stony Brook | 7:30 p.m. In last year’s meeting, the Tribe scored late in regulation to tie and won on Mikal Abdul-Saboor’s 13-yard TD in overtime. Oct. 3 | at Delaware | 7:30 p.m. The Tribe rushed for 245 yards in a 31-17 win over the Blue Hens last year at Zable.Delaware P Eric Enderson of Phoebus is averaging 45 yards per punt in his career. Oct. 10 | at Villanova | noon. The Wildcats are coming off an 11-3 finish, their best since their 2009 NCAA championship season. And 16 starters are back. Oct. 17 | New Hampshire | noon. The Wildcats’ 12-2 season ended with an FCS semifinal loss to Illinois State. Oct. 24 | Hampton | 3:30 p.m. The neighbors play for the third year in a row, with W&M having won the previous two. Oct. 31 | James Madison | 4 p.m. W&M led the Dukes 24-13 early in the fourth quarter but left Harrisonburg with a 31-24 loss. Nov. 7 | at Elon | noon. Though the Phoenix finished 1-10, five of its losses were by 10 points or fewer. Nov. 14 | Towson | 1:30 p.m. The Tigers dropped to 4-8 after winning 13 games the year before. The good news: 18 starters return, including DB Donnell Lewis of Woodside. Nov. 21 | at Richmond | noon. In what screamed “playoff elimination game,” the Spiders scored the final two touchdowns in a 34-20 win at Zable.
THE STANDOUTS Mikal Abdul-Saboor Sr. | 5-10 | 210 | RB An All-CAA pick, Abdul-Saboor rushed for 1,266 yards last season to lead the conference and finish 13th nationally. He became W&M’s second 1,000-yard rusher in the last 16 years. He ran for at least 100 yards in each of the final five games of the season. Luke Rhodes Sr. | 6-2 | 242 | LB A two-time All-CAA pick who is going into his second year as team captain. Rhodes was the Tribe’s leader in tackles with 93 (55 solo) and had four sacks along with 7.5 tackles for loss. He goes into his senior year with 263 tackles, 191 over the last two years. Steve Cluley Jr. | 6-3 | 215 | QB The Tribe had been struggling to find a consistent quarterback the last few years, but Cluley appears to be what it needs. He completed 57 percent of his passes last season for 2,048 yards, with 11 touchdowns and only four interceptions. At one point, he threw 138 consecutive passes without a pick.
JOE FUDGE/DAILY PRESS PHOTO
The team returns to practice in early August. The Tribe has many returning players.
THE STORYLINES O-LINE RETURNING TO FORM In his 35 years, Laycock had never seen anything like it. The offensive line’s five starters were the same for the first three games, and then things went haywire. Tackle Chris Durant hurt his shoulder, guard Connor Hilland had a concussion, guard Domenic Martinelli and tackle Jerry Ugokwe had leg injuries, and All-CAA center Andrew Jones missed the finale against Richmond. In the final nine games of the season, there were seven different starting lineups. The silver lining to all this is that the Tribe returns seven linemen who started at least five games last season. “Some of them had some surgeries in the offseason, but the reports are that they’re good to go,” Laycock said. “We’ll see how it plays out in camp.” GETTING BACK TO THE POSTSEASON The Tribe last made the NCAA playoffs in 2010, and while that’s not unprecedented in the program’s history, it’s also not acceptable. In 2014 and ’13, an FCS postseason bid came down to the final game of the season, and the Tribe lost — both to the Richmond Spiders. But some key personnel are back, particularly on offense, which at least on paper looks to be one of W&M’s best in recent years. This is the first season since 2008 that the Tribe is going into a season with stability at the quarterback position. And if the line stays healthy, there’s no reason why the Tribe can’t get back to where it once belonged. THE QUESTION MARKS Though the positives outweigh the negatives, W&M has three primary areas of concern: wide receiver, defensive line and the kicking game. Though the return of Cluley and Abdul-Saboor key the offense, the Tribe lost its two leading receivers and return only one who had more than five receptions last season. That’s DeVonte Dedmon (24 catches, 300 yards), a Williamsburg native who could be a game-breaker. The D-line lost three of its four starters, with only tackle Tyler Claytor (5 sacks) returning. Isaiah Stephens started two games as a true freshman and had 42 tackles. The Tribe also lost PK John Carpenter, who was automatic with extra points and 18-of-23 on fieldgoal attempts. Nick Dorka, who made two of three field goals in 2014, went into the preseason No. 1 on the depth chart.
BY DAVE JOHNSON
THE CAA This league is always competitive, and this year will be no different. Behind QB John Robertson, a rare 2,000 yards passing -1,000 rushing threat, Villanova (11-3, 7-1) looks to be the favorite. James Madison (9-4, 6-2) and New Hampshire (12-2, 8-0) also should be in the playoff mix. With better luck health-wise, William and Mary could be there, too.
2014 | 3-9, 2-6 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Last playoff berth | 2006 (lost to New Hampshire 41-38)
ONLINE | Follow Dave Johnson at @DaveJohnsonDP
CONNELL MAYNOR Sixth year (48-15, 3-9 in one season at HU) As a college quarterback, Connell Maynor learned the importance of continuity. Of everyone, pardon the cliché, being on the same page. His first team at Hampton University didn’t have that last season, at least not enough. That was to be expected, given the new staff bringing in a new system and no one quite understanding the other. “It was a learning curve where I had to learn them, and they had to learn me,” Maynor said. The result: a 3-9 season, the program’s worst finish since 1991. The offense was mistake-prone, and the defense couldn’t stop water. And yet, you could argue at least six of their losses could have gone the other way with better execution and fewer turnovers. That’s all behind the Pirates now, and 2015 is here. Maynor feels the learning curve is over now, that he knows his kids and they know what he wants from them. “It’s a night-and-day difference from last year,” he said. “I think we can really make some major improvements.” A few minute later, he chuckles. “Every coach in America probably feels good about his team right now. On Sept. 5, that’s when we’ll really find out what we’ve got.”
Sept. 5 | Kentucky State, 6 p.m. The first meeting between these schools. The Thorobreds went 3-7 last season and finished fifth in the Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Sept. 12 | Richmond, 6 p.m. This will be the Spiders’ first trip to Armstrong Stadium since 2005, when they blew out the Pirates 38-10 in the NCAA playoffs. Sept. 18 | Howard (at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.), 7 p.m. The HU rivals will play at RFK for the first time since 1999. Howard has won the last four in this series, including 30-29 last year. Sept. 26 | at Norfolk State, 4 p.m. “The Battle of the Bay” has been pretty even of late, with the teams splitting the last eight games. The Spartans won 21-13 last year at Armstrong. Oct. 3 | North Carolina A&T, 2 p.m. The Aggies are coming off a 9-3 season and return RB Tarik Cohen (1,340 yards, 15 TDs). Oct. 10 | Delaware State, 2 p.m. HU pitched its only shutout last season against the Hornets, winning 23-0. Oct. 17 | at Morgan State, 1 p.m. The Pirates have won seven of the last 10 games vs. the Bears, but one of the losses came last year (38-35). Oct. 24 | at William and Mary, 3:30 p.m. The Tribe is 5-0 in the series, including a controversial 41-34 win in 1998 and a 42-35 playoff win in 2004. Oct. 31 | at South Carolina State, 1:30 p.m. The Bulldogs have won the last seven in this series, including 17-10 last year at Armstrong. Nov. 7 | Florida A&M, 1 p.m. The first meeting between these MEAC rivals since 2012. The Rattlers are coming off a 3-9 season. Nov. 14 | at Savannah State, 1 p.m. Head coach Earnest Wilson III, a former Pirates offensive coordinator, is 1-23 in two seasons.
THE STANDOUTS David Watford Sr. | 6-2 | 210 | QB After transferring from Virginia, where he started the entire 2013 season, the former Hampton Crabber was told this is his job to lose. This despite the return of last year’s starter, Jaylian "J.J." Williamson, who threw for a school-record 407 yards in last season’s opener. Watford passed for 2,593 yards and 11 TDs (with 19 INTs) in three years for U.Va. Joshua Thorne Sr. | 6-1 | 220 | LB Thorne led the MEAC with 113 tackles and had a career-high 19 twice. He also had 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, both of which led the team. Maynor believed Thorne should have been a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Maybe he will be this year. Christian Faber-Kinney Jr. | 6-1 | 205 | P Nobody likes to punt, but you’d better have a good one. Faber-Kinney gave the Pirates a real weapon by averaging 43 yards a kick, with 10 inside the 20-yard line. The Lafayette High graduate had 14 punts of at least 50 yards, including a 72-yarder against Delaware State.
ADAM PENNAVARIA/DAILY PRESS PHOTO
QB David Watford prepares to throw during Hampton University’s practice Aug. 10.
THE STORYLINES GETTING IT DONE IN THE RED ZONE In the MEAC, Hampton was second in total yards (382 per game) but seventh in scoring (22.5 points per game). The reason? Only 69-percent efficiency in the red zone (to its opponents’ 84 percent). Part of the blame goes to turnovers — Hampton had 32. In the opener against Old Dominion, HU fumbled twice inside the 5-yard line in the fourth quarter and lost 41-28. And part of it was the kicking game, which converted only 10 of 19 field-goal opportunities. In a 30-29 loss to Howard in the finale, PK Anthony Prevost was 1-of-4. “I think that’s going to get a little better this year with another year in the system and everybody on the same page,” Maynor said. That and, he hopes, the arrival of Watford. OPTIONS ON THE EDGE They don’t have a cool nickname (yet) like “The Fun Bunch,” but one of HU’s biggest strengths will be its receiving corps. The Pirates return four receivers who caught a combined 168 passes for 2,006 yards and 17 TDs. Twarn Mixson and Rayshad Riddick had 50 receptions each, Bethel High graduate Rashawn Proctor had 45 and SeQuan Gooding 23. Mixson was the leader in yards (615) and touchdowns (six), but Watford should have no trouble spreading the ball. “We feel good about the receivers and quarterbacks,” Maynor said. “We’ve got to get the O-line straight and do a better job in the red zone.” SHORING UP THE ‘D’ Last season, the Pirates gave up 397 yards and 31 points a game — ninth and 10th, respectively, in the 11-team MEAC. They lost games despite scoring 28, 35 and 29 points. HU gave up 473 yards to Miles College in a 34-30 win. Looking back, Maynor believes a good part of the reason was switching to a 3-4 defense though he didn’t have the parts. “You’ve got to have some beasts to play a 3-4,” he said. “Those ends have to be some men.” He’s hopeful that with eight returning starters, including Thorne and DE Miles Grooms (13 tackles for loss, five sacks), things will be different this season. “Last year, we didn’t have the personnel or the depth,” Maynor said. “We’ve addressed that issue, and hopefully we’ll see better results.”
BY DAVE JOHNSON
THE MEAC In what may have been a first, last season ended with a five-way tie for first place in the conference standings. Morgan State was declared the champion and lost in the playoffs. This season, it should be just as balanced, or up in the air. And there’s no reason the Pirates can’t be among those contending.
Sunday, August 23, 2015 DAILY PRESS
26 DAILY PRESS Sunday, August 23, 2015
COLLEGE CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT 2014 | 8-4, 7-1 USA South
Last playoff berth | 2014 (lost to Widener 37-27)
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THE COACH MATT KELCHNER 15th year (98-51, all with CNU) On the wall of his office, Matt Kelchner has a framed copy of the Daily Press from May 10, 2000 — the day he was introduced as CNU’s first head coach. The photo shows him and his wife, Kathryn, holding their two sons: 3-year-old Grant and 1-year-old Luke. Fast-forward 15 years: Grant is a freshman kicker/punter at CNU, and Luke is going into his junior year of high school. Time does fly when you’re having fun, and Kelchner has been having the time of his life the last15 years. “There are times it feels like yesterday,” he said of starting up the program. “There are a lot of great things that have happened.” The great things started almost immediately, when, after an 0-3 start, CNU made the NCAA playoffs in its debut season. The Captains repeated in 2002, three-peated in ’03 (gaining their first playoff victory), and four-peated in ’04. No other team in college football history had made the postseason in each of its first four seasons. A model of consistency, the Captains have never had a losing season or gone two straight years without a playoff bid. “Yeah,” Kelchner said, “it’s been a lot of fun.”
THE STANDOUTS Daquan Davis Jr. | 5-7 | 160 | RB Davis, who helped lead Lake Taylor to a 2012 state championship, was the Captains’ second-leading rusher as a sophomore, with 834 yards and 11 TDs. He also caught 24 passes for 206 yards and five TDs, giving him 16 total scores. He’s already sixth among the school’s all-time rushing touchdown leaders with 14. Scott Fahey Sr. | 6-0 | 275 | C The mainstay of the offensive line, Fahey has started 22 consecutive games at its most demanding position. Kelchner, not one for faint praise, calls him “a phenomenal center.” QB Marcus Morrast got most of the publicity, but Fahey and his colleagues made the offense’s 35 ppg doable. Cameron Barlow Sr. | 5-9 | 160 | CB He has nine interceptions in his career, and his 10th will break the school record. He had four picks last season, second in the conference. Barlow had a 91-yard pick-six last season against Averett. And he was the Captains’ third-leading tackler with 64, 42 of which were solos.
ADAM PENNAVARIA/DAILY PRESS PHOTO
QB Tyler Quigley hands off the ball during practice on Aug. 13. in Newport News.
THE STORYLINES SWITCHING CONFERENCES After spending 14 years as one of the northernmost members of the Dixie Conference/USA South, CNU now will be the southernmost member of the New Jersey Athletic Conference. That brings three major changes: First and most obvious, the competition is different. Wesley, Rowan, Salisbury, Kean, Montclair State and CNU have made at least one playoff appearance in the last five years. “The competition level increases,” Kelchner said. Two, NJAC rules limit team rosters to 125 players, 15 fewer than CNU has become accustomed to carrying. And three, instead of long bus trips to Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, the farthest CNU will have to travel is the New York/New Jersey area. A shorter drive, but there is D.C. beltway traffic on Friday afternoons to consider. MISSING MARCUS It’s never easy losing your starting quarterback. But in the case of Marcus Morrast, the Captains have lost more than just that. Morrast did just about everything for CNU last season except mow the field. Though not a natural passer, he completed 58 percent of his throws for 2,731 yards, with 24 TDs and seven INTs. Though he didn’t have blinding speed, he led the team in rushing with 898 yards and 11 TDs. Coming out of spring practice, Arsaiah Robinson had the edge on Tyler Quigley for the starting position. Robinson had more reps last season and completed 15-of-28 throws for 117 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 165 yards, 50 coming on a touchdown run vs. North Carolina Wesleyan. THE KICKING GAME One of CNU’s biggest losses from the 2014 season was Mason Studer, who handled all kicking and punting chores. He made 14 of his 18 field-goal attempts, with a long of 50 yards. He punted for an average of 41.5 yards, and 17 of his 69 kickoffs went for touchbacks. Replacing him, Kelchner said, “will be huge.” Going into fall practice, Kelchner has a bunch of names on the board — including his son Grant, an all-state punter (he also kicked) for Tabb. Also in the mix are returnees Andrew Harper at kicker and Joe Carter at punter. “That will be a really good competition right there,” Kelchner said. And considering how important the kicking game is to field position, an important one.
BY DAVE JOHNSON
Sept. 5 | College of New Jersey | 4 p.m. The Captains’ NJAC opener will come against the Lions, who finished 2-8 last season. All-conference RB Khani Glover is expected to be the offensive focal point. Sept. 12 | Hampden-Sydney | 7 p.m. The Tigers are coming off a 7-4 season that ended with a 52-7 loss to Wesley in the first round of the playoffs. If CNU wins its opener, it would be going for its 100th all-time win. Sept. 19 | at Wesley College | 1 p.m. Nine of the NJAC’s 10 head coaches picked the Wolverines to win the conference this season. Coach Miles Drass is 198-54-1 in his 22 seasons — that’s a winning percentage of .785. Oct. 3 | Rowan | 6 p.m. The Profs are the NJAC’s defending champion and received the other first-place vote. Rowan returns eight all-conference players from last season. Oct. 10 | at Kean | noon. The Cougars are coming off a 2-8 season and are picked seventh this season. Kean beat the Captains in the 2011 NCAA playoffs. Oct. 17 | at Montclair State | 1 p.m. Rick Giancola is the winningest active coach in Division III with a record of 226-104-2. The Red Hawks have won 11 NJAC titles. Oct. 24 | Frostburg State | 7 p.m. Like CNU, this is the Bobcats’ first season in the NJAC. They went 4-6 as a member of the Empire 8 last season. Oct. 31 | at Salisbury | 1 p.m. The Captains and Sea Gulls are no strangers. Since 2001, they’ve played every season except one — in fact, Salisbury was CNU’s very first opponent on Sept. 1, 2001. The Gulls lead the series 8-4. Nov. 7 | William Paterson | 1 p.m. The Pioneers went 4-6 last season but return five All-NJAC players, including RB Matt Delana. Nov. 14 | at Southern Virginia | 1 p.m. The Knights went 1-9 last season, beating only the College of New Jersey.
THE NJAC In d3football.com’s preseason top 25, Wesley was picked No. 5, with Rowan, CNU and Montclair State among the first 10 in “others receiving votes.” The Wolverines are a national championship contender after winning 12 games and advancing to the national semifinals in 2014. Everyone else is playing for second in the NJAC.
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THE VITALS Last season | 1-9 Last playoff bid | None THE SCHEDULE Sept. 5 | Methodist | 1 p.m. Sept. 12 | at Hartwick (N.Y.) | 2 Sept. 19 | at Bridgewater | 7 Sept. 26 | at Washington and Lee | 7 Oct. 3 | Fork Union Military Academy | 4 Oct. 10 | at Louisburg (N.C.) | Noon Oct. 17 | at Alfred State (N.Y.) | Noon Oct. 24 | at Bluefield | 1 Nov. 7 | at Webber International (Fla.) | 1 Nov. 14 | College of Faith (N.C.) | 1 THE STORYLINES Offensive uptick | Apprentice last season nearly halved its turnovers from the previous year (34 to 18) and averaged 5.3 yards per play, its best in 20 years. That’s a reflection of esteemed coordinator Zbig Kepa, who worked for 29 years under Jimmye Laycock at William and Mary and returns for a second season. But can the Builders sustain that improvement absent last year’s quarterback (Deon Lavender) and top receiver (Trevon Johnson)? Sophomore Caleb Heath, who threw 53 passes as a freshman without an interception, figures to replace Lavender. Third down | Slowing the slide of consecutive 1-9 seasons hinges in large measure on performing better on third down. Apprentice converted 32-of-123 last year, while opponents went 61-of-149. Tough trio | Given the school’s mission, scheduling is an annual chore. The most challenging 2015 opponents likely will be Methodist, Bridgewater and Webber International, which were a combined 21-9 last season. THE STANDOUTS Joseph Hodge | Jr. | 6-0 | 215 | RB Hodge was a primary reason the Builders averaged 4.1 yards per carry, the program’s best in 17 years. He rushed for 708 yards and five touchdowns on 131 attempts, averaging 5.4 yards a carry. Brandon Hampton | Jr. | 5-9 | 175 | DB Hampton made 63 tackles, 36 unassisted, broke up seven passes and recovered two fumbles, all team bests. Darn impressive for one of the smaller players on the roster. Ryan Ransom | Jr. | 6-4 | 255 | DL Disruptive is the best way to describe Ransom, who led the Builders with 13 tackles for loss. He also broke up three passes, forced two fumbles and blocked a kick. THE COACH Paul White Apprentice struggled in White’s debut season in charge last year, but that hardly falls entirely on him. Since going 17-13 from 2005-07, the Builders are 11-58. White is a former high school head coach at Mathews and Gloucester, and in 2011 he steered Mathews to the state quarterfinals.
THE VITALS Last season | 2-10 overall, 1-6 Southern Con Last playoff bid: None THE SCHEDULE Sept. 3 | at Ball State | 7 p.m. Sept. 12 | Morehead State | 1:30 Sept. 19 | at Richmond | 6 Sept. 26 | at Furman | 3 Oct. 3 | Bucknell | 1:30 Oct. 10 | Samford | 1:30 Oct. 17 | Chattanooga | 1:30 Oct. 24 | at Mercer | 6 Oct. 31 | Wofford | 1:30 Nov. 7 | at The Citadel | 2 Nov. 21 | Western Carolina | 1:30 THE STORYLINES Regime change | Coach Sparky Woods exited after compiling a 17-62 record in seven years and was replaced by Scott Wachenheim, a 1984 Air Force Academy graduate who was the offensive line coach at Virginia. Toned down | The 2014 Keydets not only upgraded from the Big South to their traditional Southern Conference home, but also played two Bowl Subdivision opponents, Bowling Green and Navy. The only FBS team on the schedule this year is the Mid-American’s Ball State. Much, much wiser. Youth movement | Quarterback Al Cobb was the Southern Conference’s Freshman of the Year, and defensive back Greg Sanders made the All-Freshman team, encouraging signs in a program that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 1981. THE STANDOUTS Al Cobb | So. | 6-3 | 190 | QB Cobb set VMI records with 2,971 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes and 3,095 yards total offense. He also established single-game records with 351 yards and six scoring passes in a double-overtime loss to Gardner-Webb. Aaron Sanders | Jr. | 6-2 | 185 | WR Cobb’s favorite target caught 58 passes for 901 yards, making him the program’s mostproductive receiver since Mark Stock in 1988 (1,161 yards). Most impressive, Sanders averaged 15.5 yards per catch. Greg Sanders | So. | 5-10 | 170 | DB No relation to Aaron Sanders, his team-high three interceptions came in consecutive games against Gardner-Webb, Wofford and Furman. VMI needs more impact defenders after a season in which it allowed a staggering 41.4 points and 496.4 yards per game, both among the bottom 10 nationally. THE COACH Scott Wachenheim The Keydets’ 10th head coach in the last 50 years, Wachenheim faces daunting history. All of VMI’s other nine leaders since John McKenna’s 1965 departure lost at least 60 percent of their games. As an Air Force graduate and former officer, Wachenheim understands and appreciates the military culture.
THE VITALS Last season | 9-5 overall, 4-1 Big South Last playoff bid | 2014 (won 26-21 at James Madison, lost 29-22 at Villanova) THE SCHEDULE Sept. 5 | Delaware State | 7 p.m. Sept. 12 | at West Virginia | 3 Sept. 19 | Montana | 7 Sept. 26 | at Southern Illinois | 7 Oct. 3 | at Georgia State | TBA Oct. 10 | at Gardner-Webb | 7 Oct. 17 | at Monmouth (N.J.)| 1 Oct. 24 | Kennesaw State | 7 Nov. 7 | Presbyterian | 3:30 Nov. 14 | at Charleston Southern | 2 Nov. 21 | Coastal Carolina | 3:30 THE STORYLINES Big Mo | The 2014 Flames earned the program’s first Championship Subdivision playoff appearance in style. They defeated No. 1 Coastal Carolina in the regular-season finale to clinch the Big South’s automatic bid and bested No. 15 James Madison in the first round before falling to No. 5 Villanova in the second — all on the road. And with a host of playmakers returning, Liberty is positioned to sustain that momentum as it continues to aim for an invitation from a Bowl Subdivision conference. Replacing Hagen | Safety Jacob Hagen signed a free-agent deal with the St. Louis Rams after a senior season in which he intercepted an FCS-best eight passes, led the Flames with 108 tackles and earned first-team Associated Press All-America honors. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Hagen was straight out of central casting, and his departure is a blow for a defense that was merely average. THE STANDOUTS Josh Woodrum | Sr. | 6-3 | 225 | QB Entering his fourth season as the starter, Woodrum threw for 2,947 yards and 19 touchdowns last season while completing 61.9 percent of his attempts. He led the Big South in passing efficiency and was secondteam all-league. Darrin Peterson | Sr. | 6-2 | 190 | WR Peterson set school records last season with 85 catches and 1,379 receiving yards. Peterson topped 100 yards in eight of 14 games and was first-team All-Big South for the second straight year. D.J. Abnar | Sr. | 5-10 | 185 | RB Starting for the first time in 2014, Abnar was a workhorse, rushing for 1,289 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging nearly 21 carries per game. THE COACH Turner Gill The Flames have shared three Big South championships in as many seasons under Gill, and last year’s translated to the program’s maiden playoff voyage. Gill is 23-14 at Liberty, 48-63 overall as a head coach — he worked previously at Kansas and Buffalo.
THE VITALS Last season | 4-8 overall, 4-4 MEAC Last playoff bid | 2011 (lost at ODU) THE SCHEDULE Sept. 5 | at Rutgers | Noon Sept. 12 | at Old Dominion | 7 Sept. 19 | at Marshall | 3:30 Sept. 26 | Hampton | 4 Oct. 3 | at Howard | 1 Oct. 10 | North Carolina A&T | 2 Oct. 24 | at Bethune-Cookman | 4 Oct. 31 | at North Carolina Central | 2 Nov. 7 | Savannah State | 2 Nov. 14 | South Carolina State | 1 Nov. 21 | at Morgan State | 1 THE STORYLINES Coaching transition | Pete Adrian retired after a 10-year run that included the 2011 MEAC championship and an automatic playoff bid. But the Spartans were 11-24 from 2012-14, creating considerable challenges for new head coach Latrell Scott, a former Hampton University tight end who’s now worked at six in-state schools. Balance needed | Norfolk State ranked among the nation’s top 10 in every major defensive statistical category last season, among the bottom 15 in every key offensive category. In short, averaging 11.7 points in the era of spread offenses is unacceptable. Non-conference gantlet | The Spartans didn’t win a game outside the MEAC last year, and that’s unlikely to change in 2015. Each of Norfolk State’s three non-league contests are against Bowl Subdivision opponents: the Big Ten’s Rutgers and Conference USA’s Old Dominion and Marshall. THE STANDOUTS Deon King | Sr. | 6-1 | 235 | LB The top returning player from a group that was second nationally in total defense, King was the MEAC’s No. 4 tackler last year with 106 stops. His 18 tackles for loss were second among conference defenders and a primary reason he made first-team allleague. Isaac White | Sr. | 6-3 | 185 | WR The headliner from a flailing offense, White caught 48 passes for 664 yards and seven touchdowns. White is quick enough to get behind defenses, big enough to catch the ball in a crowd. Gerard Johnson | Jr. | 5-9 | 200 | RB Eligible immediately after transferring from Old Dominion, Johnson rushed for 865 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons with the Monarchs and could revive the Spartans’ dormant running attack. THE COACH Latrell Scott The 2014 CIAA Coach of the Year, he steered Virginia State to a 19-4 record in two seasons, including a conference championship and NCAA Division II first-round playoff victory last year. He’s recruited effectively at every level and is a promising hire.
By David Teel
Sunday, August 23, 2015 DAILY PRESS
28 DAILY PRESS Sunday, August 23, 2015
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THE VITALS Last season | 9-4 overall, 6-2 Colonial Athletic Association Last playoff bid | 2014 (lost 26-21 to visiting Liberty) THE SCHEDULE Sept. 5 | Morehead State | 6 p.m. Sept. 12 | Lehigh | 4 Sept. 19 | Albany | 3 Sept. 26 | at Southern Methodist | 7 Oct. 3 | Stony Brook | Noon Oct. 10 | at Towson | 3 Oct. 17 | at Elon | 3 Oct. 24 | Richmond| 3:30 Oct. 31 | at William and Mary | 4 Nov. 14 | at Delaware | 3:30 Nov. 21 | Villanova | Noon THE STORYLINES Stopping folks | The Dukes closed the 2014 regular season with seven consecutive victories, thanks in large measure to an offense that ranked 17th nationally in scoring at 35.7 points per game and displayed uncanny balance, ranking 21st in rushing and passing. The issue was a defense that was below 75th in every major statistical category except sacks. Returning to the playoffs could well hinge on the defense. Ball security | Can JMU repeat last season? The Dukes committed only 11 turnovers, fewer than one per game, and forced 28, more than two per game. That ratio placed them second among 121 Championship Subdivision teams in turnover margin. New coordinators | Brett Elliott (hired from Mississippi State) and Zak Kuhr (promoted from within) replace Drew Mehringer (hired by Houston) and Brad Davis (hired by East Carolina) as co-offensive coordinators. Steve Sisa (promoted) replaces Brandon Staley (hired by John Carroll) as defensive coordinator. THE STANDOUTS Vad Lee | Sr. | 6-1 | 225 | QB In his first season at JMU after transferring from Georgia Tech, Lee set school records with 3,462 yards passing, 30 touchdown passes and 4,288 yards total offense. He was voted third-team All-American and received the Dudley Award as the state’s top Division I player. Lee was the Dukes’ leading rusher as well, netting 826 yards and scoring nine times on 183 carries. Brandon Ravenel | Jr. | 6-0 | 190 | WR One of four JMU wideouts to catch at least 38 passes in 2014, he had 38 receptions for 535 yards and five touchdowns. He had a 76-yard scoring catch at Stony Brook, receptions of 50 and 40 yards versus Richmond and caught seven balls in the playoff loss to Liberty. Taylor Reynolds | Jr. | 6-0 | 195 | CB A second-team All-CAA selection last year after recording 71 tackles, four interceptions (two of which he returned for touchdown), three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. In short, Reynolds is the Dukes’ top returning defensive playmaker. THE COACH Everett Withers Last season was quite the debut for Withers in Harrisonburg as he helped the Dukes earn their first FCS playoff bid since 2011, the same year he served as North Carolina’s interim head coach, his only previous big-whistle experience. A former defensive coordinator at Louisville, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio State, Withers is tasked with tightening up JMU’s D.
THE VITALS Last season | 9-5 overall, 5-3 Colonial Athletic Association Last playoff bid | 2014 (defeated Morgan State 46-24, lost 36-15 to Coastal Carolina) THE SCHEDULE Sept. 5 | at Maryland | Noon Sept. 12 | at Hampton | 6 Sept. 19 | VMI | 6 Oct. 3 | Maine | 3:30 Oct. 10 | Elon | 3:30 Oct. 17 | at Rhode Island | Noon Oct. 24 | at James Madison | 3:30 Oct. 31 | Albany | 3:30 Nov. 7 | at New Hampshire | 3 Nov. 14 | at Villanova | 3:30 Nov. 21 | William and Mary | Noon THE STORYLINES QB questions | No FCS team threw more often in 2014 than the Spiders (41.1 passes per game), but quarterbacks Michael Rocco and Michael Strauss were seniors, leaving Kyle Lauletta and David Broadus to compete for the starter’s job. A redshirt sophomore, Lauletta appeared to have an edge exiting spring practice. Regardless of who starts, Richmond figures to throw less. More change | Offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter left during the offseason to become quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at his alma mater, Clemson, and head coach Danny Rocco promoted receivers coach Charlie Fisher to OC. Fisher worked previously at Penn State, Vanderbilt and N.C. State, tutoring marquee players such as Jay Cutler and Torry Holt. Giveaways | Richmond committed 38 turnovers last year, throwing 22 interceptions and losing 16 fumbles, shockingly high for a successful team. Indeed, the Spiders’ giveaways were the most among Division I’s 252 teams. That’s a mustcorrect in 2015. THE STANDOUTS Seth Fisher | Sr. | 6-2 | 232 | RB This bruising, old-school back is the Spiders’ lone returning first-team All-CAA player. He scored 16 touchdowns last season, 12 rushing and four receiving, and led a pass-oriented team with 777 yards rushing. Fisher scored four times versus Liberty, three in the playoffs against Morgan State. Reggie Diggs | Sr. | 6-4 | 200 | WR Diggs saved his best for the playoffs, catching eight passes for 132 yards in the opening-round victory over Morgan State. The Surry County High graduate finished the season with 85 receptions for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns, among the best years in program history, to earn second-team All-CAA. Omar Howard | Jr. | 6-0 | 231 | LB He isn’t as tall as the prototypical linebacker, but Howard certainly has instincts for the ball. He was Richmond’s No. 2 tackler last year with 92, including a career-best 18 in an upset of then-No. 3 Villanova. THE COACH Danny Rocco The model of consistency since leaving Al Groh’s Virginia staff, Rocco has yet to endure a losing season in 10 years as a head coach, seven at Liberty (47-20) and the last three at Richmond (23-14). After almost annual brushes, his first playoff appearance came last season. Returning to postseason figures to be difficult.
THE VITALS Last season | 8-5 overall, 5-3 American Athletic Conference Last bowl | 2014 (Lost 28-20 to Florida in Birmingham Bowl) THE SCHEDULE Sept. 5 | Towson | 6 p.m. Sept. 12 | at Florida | 7 Sept. 19 | at Navy | 3:30 Sept. 26 | Virginia Tech | TBA Oct. 3 | at Southern Methodist | TBA Oct. 10 | at Brigham Young | TBA Oct. 17 | Tulsa | TBA Oct. 22 | Temple | 7 Oct. 30 | at Connecticut | 7 Nov. 7 | South Florida | TBA Nov. 19 | at Central Florida | 7:30 Nov. 28 | Cincinnati | TBA THE STORYLINES Offensive overhaul | Gone are record-setting quarterback Shane Carden and his favorite target, receiver Justin Hardy, not to mention offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who accepted a similar position at Oklahoma, replacing the fired Josh Heupel. Head coach Ruffin McNeill promoted receivers coach Dave Nichol to OC. Kent Benkert, who appeared in three games last season as a redshirt freshman, is the heir apparent at quarterback. The Pirates ranked fifth nationally last season in total offense at 533 yards per game and third in passing offense at 371.9 yards per game. Ambitious schedule | As usual, ECU challenges itself outside the conference. Yes, the opener is against the Championship Subdivision’sTowson, but the Pirates also play Florida, Virginia Tech and BYU. The little things | Special teams and penalties were among ECU’s deficiencies last season. The Pirates ranked below 100th nationally in kickoff returns, punt returns, penalties and penalty yards. They were 78th in net punting. THE STANDOUTS Isaiah Jones | Jr. | 6-1 | 197 | WR Absent Hardy, drafted in the fourth round by the Atlanta Falcons, Jones likely becomes the primary receiver in ECU’s spread offense. He caught 81 passes for 830 yards and five touchdowns last season, crazy numbers for a No. 2, and also was the Pirates’ top kickoff returner. Zeek Bigger | Sr. | 6-2 | 216 | LB In addition to an ideal surname, Bigger’s credentials include an AAC-high 168 tackles last season and second-team allconference honors. He had a career-high 17 tackles and a 46-yard interception return for touchdown in a 70-41 rout of North Carolina. Ike Harris | Sr. | 6-7 | 309 | OT The linchpin of an offensive line that last season helped the Pirates average 4.8 yards per rush, the running game’s most productive year since 2007. It will be interesting to see him against Virginia Tech ends Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem in Week 4. THE COACH Ruffin McNeill Among the most affable and self-effacing coaches you’ll encounter, McNeill is 37-27 after five seasons guiding his alma mater. The Pirates transitioned impressively last season from Conference USA to the American Athletic, but without Carden and Hardy, reaching a ninth bowl in 10 years is quite the challenge.
By David Teel
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