FOOTBALL PREVIEW: A healthy Knights squad shows improvement

In 2013, Thomas Dale lost nine starting players to season-ending injuries across both sides of the ball. Among the barrage of ailments were five torn ACLs, three torn labrums and a broken bone. According to head coach Kevin Tucker, the rise in injuries has caused the Knights to take notice and work hard on conditioning this off-season. Thus far on the practice field, the Knights are healthy and driving to improve last year’s record of 6-4 after a first round playoff loss to Colonial Forge.

“This team is going to be a whole lot more aggressive,” observed Tucker. “Last year some of these guys were inexperienced and timid,” he explained. “They’ll have more confidence.”

The Knights lost a few key players to college, including C.J. Reavis who is currently listed as the No. 2 defensive back at Virginia Tech. Quarterback Trevor Luke is gunning for Averett University’s starting job. Will Esque will be at Randolph-Macon, Matt Dirr at Hampden Sydney while Justin Cooper and Jio Slayton will attempt to walk on at Old Dominion and Virginia Union respectively. All-Conference center Chris Dunford is in Pennsylvania at  Bloomsburg. After rehabbing, Tevin Strozier will look to catch on with Norfolk State and Raun Hall will play at Dean College in New York.

Thomas Dale returns many key defensive components, a big offensive line and senior running back Eric Finney. They’ll open the season August 28 against Cosby on the road at 7:30 p.m., then host the battle of Chester on September 5.

Quarterback: The Knights have a full-fledged audition going on, with three athletes vying for the starting role. Two sophomores in Matt Lawton and Gabe McCollin and a senior, Khalid Morris, who moved from Petersburg to the Dale district, are in competition. Tucker said that all three have performed well and it will likely come down to performances in scrimmages to see who the team’s starter will be.

Running Back: Eric Finney returns after an up-and-down season that saw him rush for over 1,000 yards, but also saw him have fumble issues throughout the season. The Thomas Dale coaching staff said that has been working on his technique carrying the ball and believe days of better ball control are ahead for the senior. Over the summer, Finney picked up his first college offer from Bryant University.

Wide Receiver: Marco Carrabotta, who tore his ACL last season is back and will re-assume his starting position at tight end where he’s an ample pass-catcher and blocker. Brian Bullock, who caught 13 balls last year and possesses a 37-inch vertical leap, will be a top target. Alonzie Carter will also get reps. Malik Mars-Scott now attends Manchester.

Offensive Line: This year’s version of the unit is more experienced and has something that can’t be taught- size. Robert Snead (6-7, 305) and Josh Parker (6-1, 285) are key components. Darvin Taylor III of defensive line fame will play an enhanced role on offense this season, Trevor Reed (6-4, 289) returns from a broken collarbone, and moving back to the area and replacing Chris Dunford is starting center Austin Self (6-1, 230). “We’re glad to have him back,” said Tucker.

Defensive line: The massive Taylor II (6-3, 310) anchors the defensive line unit with over 30 division one college offers from all over the country including Alabama, Florida State, Tennessee, Clemson, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. Nagging injuries limited Taylor in the second half last season, but he’s fully healthy and ready to go. Justin Amagoh returns along with Josh Parker, while Marco Carrabotta will see time at defensive end.

Linebackers: This unit is one of Dale’s most experienced. It’s headlined by junior linebacker Sammy Stark, who Tucker called “the heart and soul” of the Thomas Dale defense. He led the team with over 100 tackles last year. Carrabotta, a team leader on and off the field, is also a standout at the position. Senior Keith Anderson will start while Eric Finney and Isaiah Lee will also figure into the game plan.

Defensive Backs: The loss of C.J. Reavis at safety leaves big shoes to fill – but those will be filled by a capable junior in Trent Williams, who gained experience last year when Tevin Strozier tore his ACL. Cornerback Jordan Barnes gained muscle and looks improved this year. The other defensive backfield spots will be occupied by a combination of Brian Bullock, Kyle Alexander and Wayne Brown. Louis Rivers will forego football to concentrate on track – he’s currently ranked second in the nation in the 55m hurdles.

Special Teams: Plato Eliades of the soccer team will handle the team’s kicking duties and is lauded for his athleticism and all-around play.
 
ONE TO WATCH:
Eric Finney, 5’9 185 pounds
Senior - Running Back

You’re in a pretty good position when people view an 1,056 yard, 17 touchdown season as a ‘down year.’ While certainly not a “down year,” that means that people believe you have an incredible upside.

Finney is another solid running back in Thomas Dale’s long tradition of them. He’ll be looked at to carry a heavy load this season as the Knights shift back to a more run-dominant offense.

“He’s the type of player that teams will stack eight or nine in the box against,” explained Tucker. “But he’s still going to have a good season.”

Hampered by fumbles last season, Finney said that he carried a football in his hands all summer.

“I kept it high and tight,” he said.

That dedication will be key as Finney looks to help improve Thomas Dale’s offensive attack and his stock with colleges as the season progresses.

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