FOOTBALL QUICK HITTERS: Reports from Practice

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As the first few weeks of football practices continue, here a few quick hitters from practices we’ve been checking out already.

Covenant / Thursday August 18 2011 / 5 p.m.

With just over a week before its season opener Covenant is focusing on making sure its as ready as it can be for Fredericksburg Christian. Having opened camp well before a lot of neighboring privates schools, August 1st to be exact, first year Eagles coach Dave Rocco is putting the finishing touches on the pistol offense he plans to run, and the attack heavy 4-3 defense he used previously at Jefferson Forest High as a defensive coordinator.

Covenant is going young at the quarterback position with freshman Tony Massie leading the way, but playing in the pistol as opposed to being under center should give the signal caller a few appreciated steps back from the chaos that is the line of scrimmage. The Eagles are also relying on a young running back in Dominique Tally. This far in camp, Rocco has been highly impressed with the way his three returning seniors have stepped up into a leadership role. Clark Crutchfield is the leader for both the offensive and defensive lines while Michael Estep and Luke Benes anchor the secondary and receiving corps. As the this team faces one last week of preparation, Rocco also noted that the play of the receivers and the secondary is the strongest part of this team which graduated so many starters last year.

St. Anne's-Belfield / Friday August 11 2011 / 10 a.m.

At St. Anne’s-Belfield football practice, nobody is exempt from the five-man blocking sled. Not this week. Early in camp at least, the five-man, which is usually the scourge of high school linemen across the nation, is everyone’s problem at STAB. Quarterbacks, tailbacks, wideouts — everyone works out on the sled. There are surely a lot of other reasons for STAB’s success on the ground over the years, but this approach to blocking drills might be a factor. St. Anne’s usually gets great downfield blocking from it’s wide receivers, which allows five and 10 yard gains created by the Saints’ usually technically sound linemen to turn into 20 and 30 yard explosions. With the run game the defending VISAA Division 2 champions are bringing back to the field this fall — tailback Branford Rogers, fullback Shane Palmateer and three starting linemen all return — the Saints should be solid as usual in the run game. That work on the five-man is just going to make the Saints that much better.

For a photo gallery from St. Anne's-Belfield click here.

Buckingham County / Wednesday August 11, 2011 / 7:30 p.m.

Maurice Taylor’s incredible play at running back over the last two seasons has overshadowed Buckingham County’s defense as this team made back-to-back trips to the postseason. Look for the defense to a get bit more of its due this year, it is destroying the second team offense on almost each and every play as the Knights are in full swing of contact drills.

Buckingham returns the vast majority of its starters on both offense and defense, which makes this one of the James River District’s most experienced teams. Player’s like quarterback and safety Tarian Ayers are entering their third season as starters on the field. When you talk about how many regular season games this team has won the last two years (19) and that it’s won a playoff game and forced two others into overtime, this group of seniors is about as seasoned as you get.

The Knights look athletic and boast solid size all over the field, defensive end Jackson Bryant being a very deceptive exception. For a number of teams, Bryant would be considered as a bit of an undersized lineman, but his ability to penetrate and apply pressure is fascinating to watch.

This team is quite vocal, with the seniors unafraid to talk up the younger players. Coach Craig Gill, now in his 16th season with Buckingham, also isn’t afraid to throw in his two cents. Gill is about as hands on a coach as they come and he seems to truly shine in camp.

Nelson County / Tuesday August 10, 2011 / 5:30 p.m.

 The Governors are working hard on their change in offensive style during their second week of camp. With a 1,000-yard back in Rodrell Smith and an athletic quarterback in Tyler Vest, why not try and take advantage of such a strong backfield. Third year coach Mark Wells is going from the spread to the triple option — a system recently made popular again thanks to Paul Johnson’s success with it at Navy and now Georgia Tech.

The system is pretty straight forward for everyone on the field with the exception of Vest who has to make the reads and decide what he wants to do, handoff or run it himself. The speedy quarterback seems to be getting better and better in a short period of time as he and the coaching staff talk through things.

If the Governors execute this system the way they intend to, that will be a big help to the defense as this is a move the chains slowly offense. Granted Nelson has to play a lot of players on both sides of the ball, but those who aren’t on the first team offense but on first team defense, should be able to get plenty of rest. Of course the other thing worth noting is that unless you turn it over, the other team can’t score if you have the ball.

For a photo gallery from Nelson click here.

Powhatan / Tuesday August 9, 2011 / 5:00 p.m.

Powhatan was the last Jefferson District team to take the field as the Indians did not begin until Monday August 8th. So while most teams are in full pads and in contact drills during the week, Powhatan is just getting its feet wet. With that said, this team looks like it’s been practicing for quite some time. That’s the product of incredible athleticism and discipline, two things this team has in bulk. 

Coach Jim Woodson is looking forward to seeing a step up in competition in the Jefferson District, noting that playing the Southside District over the last few years has been tough because his team has received very little competition. He notes that’s his team is under going significant turnover, but only turning over key jobs to rising seniors who all have a lot of experience having piled up the minutes in the fistful of blowouts this team was on the right side of as they rolled to a 10-2 record.

Despite breaking in a new starting quarterback, running backs and wideouts, the strength of this team is still in those positions, particularly with Alex Higuchi at running back and H-back Ray Brown. Brown looks poised to be a problem for every team he faces. The Indians aren’t going to face a JD opponent until the first week of October, and with ambitious out of district opponents like Fork Union on the schedule in September, it’s looking like it won’t matter that the five other members of the Jefferson started August 1st. Powhatan looks ready to be an instant player, and if they aren’t already, they’ll be well prepared after their first month of regular season play.

For a photo gallery from Powhatan click here.

Fluvanna County High / Friday August 5, 2011 / 6:30 p.m.

Stability. That’s the first word that comes to mind at Fluvanna County’s opening week of football practice. For the first time in four years, seniors like returning first team All-Jefferson District lineman Ben Lacey have the same head coach leading things for consecutive years. Lacey’s class has been through three different coaches — Joel Gray as freshmen, Rodney Redd as sophomores and Jason Barnett as juniors. Now Barnett begins his first full year as the head coach (he was the interim for most of 2010) at Fluvanna County and, apparently so far so good. Barnett indicated that the Flucos were well ahead of schedule with the install of offensive and defensive schemes, partially because they have a full year in both systems under their belt. Some positions are, predictably, still shaking out, including quarterback where either junior Blake Hills or sophomore Austin Foster will take control of the offense. Whoever shakes out as the starter will have a number of big targets at wideout including a couple of new faces, 6-foot-4 junior Tre’vonne Bradley and 6-foot-3 freshman Jalen Harrison, in addition to basketball standout YaYa Anderson.

For a photo gallery from Fluvanna click here.

Madison County / Wednesday August 3, 2011 / 7:00 p.m.

In Madison County, the Mountaineers are focused entirely on their offense. Until they put on pads and play in contact drills — that comes next week — Madison coach Stuart Dean feels as though there isn’t a lot of reason to worry about the defense. The Mountaineers return an awful lot from a team that made it to the Region B playoffs last year. Dustin Farmer looks confident coming into his second year at quarterback. He should be, he’s got one of the area’s best receivers in Travis Warren back for a senior season. Few team’s were as balanced between the pass and run as Stuart’s squad was last season. The passing game looks like it’s going to be every bit as sharp this year. And if there’s one thing Madison never seems to struggle with, that’s finding someone willing to carry the ball. While Maurice Gentry offers the most experience, Dean noted that he thinks he might feature a bevy of backs given the number of athletes he has. So while things look the same in Madison, the new shakeup in Group A at the new sectional level will ensure that if this team makes it to the playoffs again, it won’t be a third straight road trip to Altavista. The Mountaineers have a pair of scrimmages to hone in on before their season opener at East Rockingham

Albemarle High / Wednesday August 3, 2011 / 11 a.m.

You can’t help but be blown away by the numbers that Albemarle High is trotting out right now. In the second year under head coach Mike Alley, the Patriots had more than 90 players out at practice on day one, and most freshman — a group of them are out already trying out for junior varsity — won’t start until August 17th when the ninth grade team starts practice. Nearly 60 interested middle school athletes signed up to play in the spring, so practices at Albemarle could become unwieldy in the near future. The Patriots also bring back some seasoned players in the backfield, including quarterback Lee Carneal. running back Micah Rivers and wideout Timmy Akers. With another year in Alley’s traditionally highly productive spread system, those playmakers’ productivity should take another step forward. 

For photo gallery from Albemarle click here.

Western Albemarle High / Tuesday, August 2, 2011 / 7 p.m.

Western got started a day late because the program lost five days of preseason practice due to a self-reported VHSL out-of-season practice violation. Those missed days will be scattered throughout the preseason period, but any lost time in the constricted summer preparation period is a frustrating situation. The Warriors had a solid rhythm going in practice with the typical first week teaching and orientation-type periods. The offensive line will have to be reworked with the graduation of some key standouts and the quarterback situation certainly remains unsettled, but a large crop of sophomores — nearly 30 arrived at practice on day one — should bolster the program today and going forward. Versatile athletes like Tanner Knight and Austin Ellis, as well as sophomore strong safety Kent Henry, who’s also in the quarterback derby, give Western some heady players throughout the lineup in the early stages of camp.

For a photo gallery from Western Albemarle click here.

Charlottesville High / Monday August 1, 2011 / 7:30 p.m.

A new coach has a way of stirring up the team, from top to bottom. First year Charlottesville coach Eric Sherry, his coaches and his players were soaked after their first practice, but all were smiling. Sherry noted that he was “very enthused” by the athleticism he saw from his players on day one, noting that it will help greatly as they transition away from the spread used under former coach Chris Fraser towards a more misdirection-oriented run game in the form of the triple option. While it’s going to take all of camp for the Black Knights to perfect Sherry’s vision on offense, the new coach isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel. Charlottesville’s playbook has shrunk significantly as Sherry would rather see his team run a variety of plays soundly rather than run a barrage of plays uncomfortably. Charlottesville get’s a chance to see how they look on the field on Thursday August 11th on the road in a scrimmage against Harrisonburg. The following week, Friday the 19th, they’ll suit up in an exhibition benefit game with Albemarle, also on the road.


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