SKYHAWKS SEEK CONTINUED SUCCESS
The 2010 brand of the L.C. Bird Skyhawks did something no other Bird team had done before: they won their first 11 games of the season. In their twelfth game in the regional playoffs, they fell to Hermitage 17-14. Bird finished their season at 11-1 and won yet another Dominion District Championship. They begin the 2011 season ranked 21st in the state according to maxpreps.com.
“We had a great year last year,” said head coach David Bedwell. “But you obviously want to extend that season as far as you can, so we didn’t quite achieve our goal.”
Departures: The Skyhawks graduated 37 players from the team, the smallest class since Bedwell has coached the team. Among the most notable graduates were corner back/quarterback Anthony Harris (UVA), wide receiver Jamil McGinnis (Florida A&M), and defensive lineman Avery Coleman (JMU). Coach Bedwell points out that while some key contributors have left, there are young players ready and eager to fill those vacancies.
Returnees: Deon Clarke, a Virginia Tech commit, a four-year starter at linebacker, and running back Yahkee Johnson, who rushed for over 2,000 yards last season, are both seniors and two of the most talented players the 2011 Skyhawks have to offer. Aaron Fuller will be the new starter at quarterback for Bird. Fuller is a four-year player in the program, and has earned his first starting job. Running back/defensive back Lionel William also figures to play a very significant role.
Prognosis: L.C. Bird will face some competition in Dominion district foes Clover Hill, Manchester and James River, but look poised to challenge for yet another district championship. With just four playoffs spots that Bird can obtain, winning the district is the only way to assure a playoff appearance. With a strong defense, another great year from Johnson, and solid play from Fuller, the Skyhawks will be poised to win this season.
MONARCHS LOOK TO BOUNCE BACK
For the Monarchs, their 2010 season ended on a down note – in a game against district foe Petersburg. The winner of that game would advance to the playoffs, but Meadowbrook fell just short in that game on a missed field goal, falling 22-21. Head coach Troy Taylor is looking to guide the Monarchs back to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. The Monarchs finished their season at 6-4.
Departures: The Monarchs had several players graduate, moving on to the next level. Among those were safety Leon Austin (West Virginia Wesleyan), offensive tackle Irabor Imobisa (Richmond) and running back and 2,000-yard rusher Mico Phillips (Virginia State).
Returnees: Quarterback Gerard Johnson returns for his junior season, and has improved immensely over the offseason through physical conditioning. He will likely receive more opportunities to make plays with his feet and his arm this season. Seniors Jeremy Cuthrell and Devin Woodley will hope to spell Phillips in 2011, splitting carries in the Meadowbrook backfield. Returning on defense will be All-District nose guard Marcus Beckwith, who led the team in sacks last season. Linebacker Frank Dickerson will anchor the middle of the defense again for the Monarchs.
“We have a lot of players that need a lot of reps,” said head coach Troy Taylor. “This is a good group and these guys will have to improve quickly this season.”
Prognosis: Young players will have to step up and fill gaps made by graduating seniors, and someone will have to spell Phillips out of the backfield for a team that was very run-heavy last season. Much of these contributions will most certainly be from Johnson: the dual threat quarterback for the Monarchs. With the right contributions, the Monarchs could challenge for a playoff spot again this season.
WARRIORS HEALTHY FOR SEASON START
The 2010 football season was a struggle, at times, for the Matoaca High School Warriors who did without two key offensive players for most of their season. They managed to win three games but fell short of head coach Pat Manuel’s initial expectations.
Not only were injuries to quarterback Michael Birdsong and running back Jaquante King a challenge on the season; Matoaca also lost several other contributors to the injury bug as well. This led to an inexperienced team on the field, but did, on a more positive note, allow for valuable learning experiences, according to Manuel.
“Having young kids learning in-season last year hurt us at times,” he said. “But that experience could set the stage for something special this season.”
Departures: Cumulatively, the Warriors lost four players from both sides of the ball to graduation.
Returnees: Many key contributors will return for the 2011 season. The Warriors return the aforementioned Birdsong and King. Also returning will be all-district wide receiver Tevin Johnson, offensive and defensive lineman Allen Roots, and perhaps most notably out of all the underclassmen returning is tight end/outside linebacker Brandon Brown. Brown, who comes in at 6’4”, 225 pounds, is someone Matoaca thinks is a bona fide division-I prospect. He will give Birdsong a big target in the passing game and provide a solid presence on defense for the Warriors.
Matoaca also expects to receive big contributions from a number of other players: freshman Trevion Armstrong at wide out; running back/cornerback SaQuan Franklin-Scott, a redistrict transfer from Dale who played a significant amount of time last season; and running back Khalil Coleman, who started at corner and running back last year in place of King. Manuel and his staff believe Coleman has the potential to develop into a major college prospect as well.
Prognosis: Staying healthy is crucial for the Warriors’ success, but on paper they return a nice portion of their contributors from last year; and a full season with a healthy Birdsong at center, the Warriors could make a stand in the district. Defensively, they are more experienced and expect to be vastly improved over last year.
KNIGHTS FOCUS ON TEAMWORK
Coming off of their 2009 State Championship season, the Thomas Dale Knights were left with a depleted roster, graduating 33 players. With only three players that had significant playing time left on the roster, the Knights battled their way to a 5-5 record, staying competitive in most of their games. A part of this success was due to numerous younger players rising to the occasion.
“This off-season, we challenged our kids to look at last year’s games and identify what caused our losses,” said head coach Kevin Tucker. “They’ve had a chance to gel as a team, they did camps together, they’ve hung out together, [and] they push each other.”
Departures: There is a silver lining to every cloud. The large 2009 roster turnover means that just six players graduated from Thomas Dale’s 2010 roster. What that provides for Dale in 2011 is a group of players that returns eight starters on both sides of the ball, and according to Tucker are “a bunch of guys who know what they are doing” instead of learning like they had to last season.
Returnees: There will be several standouts for Thomas Dale again this year, most notably defensive back senior Desmond Frye. Frye, primarily a big defensive back, usually playing safety, showcased his skills last year at that spot as well as wide receiver. He will be attending Virginia Tech. In the secondary, sophomore D.J. Reid will share carries with corner back/running back Lorenzo Fields. Both were huge standouts last year and have several colleges pursuing them.
Prognosis: The 2011 Knights, who return many starters from last year, do look poised to challenge for a district championship and beyond this season. They have experience at quarterback, running back, and on defense from top to bottom. This team has also drawn comparisons internally to the 2009 team that won a state championship under late head coach Vic Williams.