SKYHAWKS RELOAD WITH YOUTH, QUARTERBACK
After winning 12 straight Dominion District titles, the L.C. Bird Skyhawks are no stranger to success. Last year, they took things one step further, winning their first round playoff game against Varina 21-16 before falling to Hermitage 10-0 in the Central Region Final. Bird finished at 10-2 overall.
“When you start your preparations in the summer you hope for a year like that,” said Bird head coach David Bedwell. “Every year our kids challenge themselves to be better than last year’s team.”
Departures: Former star running back and 2,000-yard rusher Yahkee Johnson graduated last year and is attending prep-school this fall. The Skyhawks graduated linebacker Deon Clarke, who is at Virginia Tech having a great camp. Bird also lost two standout members of their defensive line in Ty-Vaughn Kirby Johnson and Torey Pettis, who both play for Virginia State.
Returnees: Senior running back Paul Robertson will replace Johnson this season. In limited action last year, Robertson performed well, usually filling during the second half when Bird was up. Robertson runs track and Bedwell considers him to be the “fastest guy we’ve had in our program.” Defensive lineman Purcell Burvine, a much improved player, figures to have a monster senior season, and the voids left by Pettis and Kirby-Johnson will be filled by Deshawn Smith and Jay Anderson respectively.
Impact Newcomer: Terrence Irving, a junior transfer quarterback from Henrico, will be the team’s starting quarterback this season and is expected to give the Skyhawks a steady threat in both the passing and running game.
Prognosis: Winning the district would be Bird’s 13th straight, and the Skyhawks look poised to make a run. Just how good they will be is going to be determined by how well younger players step up to fill the gaps left from last year. It appears that Manchester and Cosby will be top district threats in an overall improved Dominion. Bird will begin the season with the Battle of Chester at Dale September 7.
MONARCHS LOOK TO RETURN TO POST SEASON
The Monarchs finished 9-1 overall, but due to a heartbreaking loss to Thomas Dale 21-14 to break a tie in the Central District standings, failed to qualify for the playoffs. Head Coach Troy Taylor and senior quarterback Gerard Johnson will stop at nothing to get over the hump this season. Meadowbrook begins the season ranked the highest of area teams at 13th in the state by maxpreps.com.
“Our goal this year to go undefeated and win the district,” said Johnson. “That way we won’t have to worry about other teams and their records to qualify for the playoffs.”
Departures: All-Metro running back Tyvonte Loney graduated and now plays for Ferrum. Cornerback Troi Hughes accepted a full-ride to Norfolk State University, and play-maker Devin Woodley who played wide receiver, defensive back and toiled on return duty for the Monarchs is attending Dodge City Junior College in Kansas.
Returnees: Quarterback Gerard Johnson is expected to be one of the best players in the region this season. His leadership and play will be vital to the Monarchs success if they are to advance to the playoffs this year. Senior offensive linemen Lavonte Heights and Caleb Wright return to anchor the line, while Earl Hughes, a junior will take over Meadowbrook’s starting running back job in addition to playing defensive back. Raequan Peoples, a senior linebacker, will anchor the defense this season as a captain.
X-Factor: While a potent offense is likely, Meadowbrook’s younger defense will have to rise to the occasion. Insiders to the program say they saw a sharp upswing in Johnson’s play towards the end of last season, and he will need to continue playing at that level to maximize this team’s success.
Prognosis: Meadowbrook should challenge Thomas Dale for the district title, and the two teams will play at Thomas Dale this season. The match-up has brought many close games over the past few seasons and may be the best rivalry in the Central District. The Monarchs defense will have to step up. Meadowbrook opens tomorrow on the road at Manchester at 6 p.m.
WARRIORS EXPERIENCED DEFENSE WILL BE KEY
The Warriors bettered a performance of 3-7 in 2010 last season and tallied a 5-5 overall record. Matoaca had their bright spots one of which was nearly knocking off Thomas Dale on the road and looks to continue to improve in 2012.
“Last year we played a lot of younger keys on defense, and their inexperience hurt us,” said head coach Pat Manuel. “Those kids will be coming back stronger and more experienced this season, that’s a big plus for us.”
Departures: One of the only and biggest losses for Matoaca was quarterback Michael Birdsong, who accepted a full scholarship to James Madison University. The offense ran through him last season as he was a leader on and off the field. Birdsong has impressed early on in camp with JMU and is slotted at the back-up quarterback spot as a freshman.
Returnees: Senior Brandon Brown has been recruited by several schools as tight-end and linebacker, and will lead Matoaca this year on both sides of the ball. Senior wide-out Trevion Armstrong is expected to have a good year catching passes from new quarterback Brandon Starke. Starke, a senior, is lauded for his athleticism. Starke, who also plays safety is a quarterback that can both throw and scramble. The defense is anchored by linebackers Winston Reed and Jordan Reyes and defensive lineman Resean Bolton.
X-Factor: Without a ‘can’t miss’ player on offense, the Warriors will have to get great play from Starke to help ease the loss of Birdsong. Someone will need to step-up at running back as well. A defense that played extensively as sophomores and juniors looks to be the strong point for Matoaca this season and cannot disappoint.
Prognosis: Head coach Pat Manuel stated this team is one of the most exciting and talented teams he’s had over the past few seasons, and if these players can step-up and play together, Matoaca could be a surprise team this season in the Central District. They will have to compete with Dinwiddie, Thomas Dale and Meadowbrook, who on paper, figure to have the upper hand. Matoaca opens the season tomorrow with a tough test in Cosby at home.
KNIGHTS STORIED RUNNING GAME PLAYS PIVOTAL ROLE
Rebounding from a down year in 2010, the Thomas Dale Knights won the Central District and qualified for the playoffs, falling to Hermitage 14-0 in the first round. The Knights finished their season at 7-4 overall.
“Hermitage was the best team we faced all year,” said third-year head coach Kevin Tucker. “Now it’s time to see if we can take the next step and make a run in the playoffs.”
Departures: Last year’s Central District Defensive Player of the Year, Desmond Frye, is having a great camp at Virginia Tech. Lorenzo Fields, a standout cornerback last year, is having a great camp at Hampton University. Former safety Quinton Taylor chose to walk-on at Virginia Tech over VMI to pursue an engineering degree.
Returnees: Senior running back D.J. Reid just may be the real deal, as he’s expected to get 20-25 touches per game out of the backfield as the team’s primary running back. Reid is eyeing former Dale runningback Nick Fleming’s single-season yardage record of 2,030 yards this season. Linebacker Matt Saun