No scrimmages, opt outs and a shortened preseason means we know perhaps less about this year’s football teams than any other year, but we’re about to jump into one of the most interesting and unpredictable years we’ve ever seen this spring. We’re still working on a Fall Sports Yearbook like our Winter Yearbook, but here is our preview of the football teams set to be in action this spring.
Make no mistake about it — Albemarle knew it was going to take some lumps back in 2019 when the Patriots turned to a dozen sophomores for significant playing time. But Albemarle still managed to wedge its way into the playoffs and that baptism by fire for that group and a host of other returners this year should help the Patriots reap the benefits in this shortened spring season. Offensively, it starts with the now junior battery of quarterback Jake King and running back Eb McCarthy who had to work things out together on the fly as sophomores. Both showed flashes of the kind of players they could become with McCarthy showing a knack for hitting the hole and finding open space while King proved he was a gamer and improved dramatically as the season wore on with a 10-for-15, 188-yard three touchdown performance against Charlottesville. He’ll have to figure it out offensively now without second team All-JD receivers Robert Jones and Torry Green, but a year of seasoning should be a big boost for the young signal-caller. He’ll also have help up front in Javarious Massie, a returning first team All-Region 5D pick on the offensive line that gives the Patriots a key figure to build around with up-and-comers Haitham Alazzawe and Dalton Tate also joining the mix in the front five. On defense, Nolan Pittsenberger returns as an impact player, a second team All-JD defensive back a year ago who plays much bigger than his listed size. Albemarle will miss Jake Rombach in the front seven, but Zaylen Foster, Adam Schantz and newcomer at linebacker Isaiah Grevious as well as Kyshon Howard at strong safety or rover should all make their presence felt. The Patriots are slated to jump right in with Goochland at home in the opener so we should learn a lot about Albemarle right away. Like everyone else, the Patriots didn’t get to take advantage of the full weight room/offseason development cycle, but with a lot of players back in the mix after being thrown into the fire a year ago, the Patriots should take a step forward this spring.
The Black Knights have experienced a strange couple of seasons as a plague of injuries that have forced Charlottesville to play players out of position or years before they were ready has yielded expected results, with an 0-10 record a year ago following a 1-9 campaign before that. This season, Charlottesville will look to build around Jaleom Adams-Mallory, a fullback and linebacker who is just an old school football player, willing to play wherever and whenever his team needs him. Adams-Mallory’s natural fit is likely at tight end or defensive end but the Black Knights could play him any number of different places and he had a big impact at fullback last year where he gave the Black Knights a physical presence in the triple option. Lamont Bullard should be a force at linebacker and could see time carrying the ball too. He had one of the Black Knights’ highlight plays of the season a year ago with an 88-yard scoop and score against Albemarle. Quincy Edwards and Polo Hill are likely to play the slot/wing spots in the offense, players who have to be able to get physical and block and also get the edge on end arounds to keep defenses from loading up against the straight-ahead dive. Devin Shifflett will be counted on to do some work on the offensive line while Sebastian Bernardini has the potential to give the passing game a boost at wideout. Adams-Mallory will need to be a major playmaker on defense too likely from somewhere on the edge, while Ehnay Soe should join Adams-Mallory and Bullard in the front seven. Nasir Lindsay at safety should give the Black Knights a reliable back end defender and Edwards and Hill could see time on that side of the ball in the secondary as well. Having Adams-Mallory in the mix gives the Black Knights rock to build around on both sides of the ball. Now they’ve just got to make all the pieces fit around him and get moving quickly. With a shortened campaign, there isn’t much room for slow starts.
Fluvanna County football enjoyed its second straight trip to the region playoffs last season and the Flucos clearly have things headed in the right direction as a program and the Flucos have some key pieces back in the mix this year to continue that run. That starts with quarterback Kobe Edmonds, back for his third season as the Flucos’ starter. Edmonds is a capable runner who led the Flucos in rushing a year ago with 824 yards on 100 carries as a sophomore, averaging 8.2 yards per carry. But he’s also an underrated passer and threw for 507 yards last year. It could help the Flucos’ passing attack — and frankly the ground game too — to add Xavier Copeland to the mix. Copeland is a multi-faceted athlete who can make an impact in all three phases as a returner, wideout, slot or defensive back. He should give Edmonds a weapon and draw some attention off the junior signal-caller. Sophomore Jaden Ferguson could provide a similar impact as the speedy wideout could become a matchup problem with a year of high school football under his belt. Throw in seniors A.J. Wyche and John Rittenhouse, an intriguing new addition at wideout or tight end and there are a lot of options in the passing attack that could lead to the Flucos expanding that area a bit. Beyond Edmonds and Copeland, Lance Gowans and Tristan Chilsholm could see some carries. They’ll run behind a line that loses Alden Custer, Caleb Stoltz, Trevor Wade and ECU lineman Walt Stribling, so that’s where there’s work to be done, but Grant Brown, Jason Hamshar and Ryan Morris give the Flucos some pieces to build around. Defensively, Copeland has the potential to be a force and Wyche is a ballhawk in the secondary while Edmonds should also play a role at corner. Ferguson also lines up at free safety and Trace Harris plays strong safety, so throwing on the Flucos appears to be a dicey proposition. At linebacker, Gowans, Chase Paschall and Jacob Morris should be a factor while the Flucos work out the kinks on the defensive line that’ll miss Stoltz, Wade and Custer. The development in the trenches will likely dictate what the Flucos can do this season, but coach Mike Morris feels like this is the most explosive team he’s had since taking over three years ago. If the Flucos can figure out how to protect those skill players and open up running lanes, Fluvanna is set to take another step forward this year.
It took essentially a perfect high school football team to derail Goochland in 2019 in the unbeaten Hopewell state title squad that the Bulldogs took to the brink in the state semifinals. This year, Goochland returns the kind of skill guys that have expectations high as usual for the Bulldogs. That starts with the battery of C.J. Towles at quarterback and Kam Holman at receiver. While the Bulldogs’ reputation is built on the Wing-T and it’s still a major part of their identity, they’re slowly starting to be incorporate more of coach Alex Fruth’s passing attack and Holman’s electric ability on the boundary and Towles’ big arm make that possible. The graduation of ball carriers Devin McCray, Quincy Snead and Dakhri Burgess should naturally lead to Towles and Holman taking more of the offensive load, but Goochland always finds people to run the ball and Towles is capable of moving the ball on the ground and Conner Popielarz does return to the mix. They’ll run it behind a revamped offensive line as just one starter returns up front. He’s an awfully good one in Ayden Doczi, a road grading All-Region 3B center. He’ll be joined by newcomer Jahran Tucker, a promising junior lineman. Defensively, losing Kindrick Braxton and the region defensive player of the year in McCray leaves the Bulldogs with some holes, but Anthony Holland and Will Stratton return at linebacker and Towles and Holman are top notch defensive backs. Just a junior, De’Andre Robinson might be the most underrated piece of the puzzle. He was a first team All-Region pick a year ago and is drawing Ivy League interest, but Robinson, who checks in at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds impacted the game in so many ways up front and he’s a year older and stronger. Look for him to continue his emergence as one of the area’s finest defenders. Kai Burton also returns on the defensive line and Haiden McCourt should factor in the mix at defensive back while also pulling some wide receiver duty. Tyler Black returns at kicker and punter after a solid freshman campaign to anchor the Bulldogs’ usually stout special teams units. Goochland will play an interesting schedule with several members of the James River District including rival Buckingham opting out of the season. That means Goochland will face some unfamiliar foes and some long road trips, but they’ve got a lot of the right pieces to make some serious noise this spring.
Depending on how pandemic restrictions on crowds end up shaking out, no gameday experience may undergo more of a change than Louisa County’s simply because they have the most to potentially lose with the atmosphere the entire community has built in The Jungle. But the football itself? That appears to be business as usual. Kalup Shelton is back at running back and while he’s used to sharing the load and likely would’ve if Louisa had been able to play in the fall with Howard-bound Robbie Morgan, the senior is strong and packs a punch — he’s more than capable of carrying that load himself. He’ll also be joined in the backfield by a budding star, sophomore quarterback Landon Wilson. Wilson is one of the most advanced passers that Louisa has had at the spot in years, and while the Lions aren’t about to abandon their power run identity, opposing defenses could be in a ton of trouble if they try and load up in the box. He’s got threats to distribute to as well, with Jordan Smith, Logan McGhee, Armani Comfort, Chase Miller and T.J. Young all in the mix as potential pass catchers. Throw in Bridgewater pledge A.J. Proffitt at tight end and there’s just plenty of options to either put the ball in the air or grind it out on the ground. The Lions’ offensive line will get a significant reset with the graduation of Griff Hollins, David Munoz and Logan Yancey, but the Lions best-kept secret might be the group of young linemen that have come together concentrated in the sophomore and junior classes. Qwenton Spellman and Eli Brooks made some early noise as freshmen and the two-way sophomore linemen have the potential to be a particularly special duo over the next few years. On the defensive front, the Lions have Spellman and Brooks but four other lineman should make an impact between juniors Jacob Bundrick, Austin Libby and Avery Quarrels and senior Lowell Johnson. Behind that group is a pack of linebackers, with juniors Stephen Dean and Tyler Walton in the mix at linebacker along with Proffitt, a senior who’s getting a chance to shine after playing in a loaded couple of position groups alongside Austin Sims and Aaron Aponte the last couple of years. In the secondary, Miller, Smith and McGhee should be big factors. The Lions have graduated a huge class last season from Jarett Hunter to Noah Robinson to Buck Hunter to Alex Washington to Sims to Aponte to Munoz. But the next group is coming, and they’re likely to arrive sooner rather than later.
Madison County football starts the Larry Helmick era this spring as the former Eastern View assistant takes the helm of a program that has undergone some turmoil since Stuart Dean stepped down in 2017, cycling through two other coaches in Chandler Rhoads and Jon Rasnick before Helmick took the helm. Getting Madison County back on track will take a culture shift in some ways and as a Madison native, Helmick should have a solid vision for what it will take to get things on track. He’ll start by building around Wade Fox, a sophomore quarterback who got something of a baptism by fire as a freshman. Fox is 6-foot-1 and checks in at 190 pounds and he has shown flashes of being a dynamic player at the spot. Beyond Fox, like in any program with a new head coach and a system shift, there are a lot of question marks. The varsity roster has just a single senior, wideout and linebacker Kris Dobyns, but it’s also dotted with some intriguing athletes like 6-foot-6 Taylor Fincham, a junior who was an All-Bull Run District pick in basketball as well as Jaden Scruggs and Matthew Sacra, a pair of freshmen who also wrestle. Expect year one, especially in a shortened campaign without the usual workout and player development cycle to be about culture building for the Mountaineers. Helmick comes from one of the most consistent winning programs in the state in Eastern View. While he’s certainly facing an uphill climb at Madison, his background in how to run a program at a high level should put him in position to build Madison back over the next few years. Fox’s presence and the addition of some of the school’s top athletes could put them in position to surprise some teams right now.
The Matt Hicks era begins this spring for Monticello and the cupboard is far from bare for the new head coach and former Mustang assistant. The Mustangs start with Malachi Fields, perhaps the area’s most under-the-radar Division I talent, a UVa signee who has been toiling away on a pair of 2-8 Monticello squads, the first two back-to-back losing seasons for the Mustangs since 1999. Fields has been one of the few bright spots in that time, a dual threat quarterback projected to play wideout for the Cavaliers who rushed for 828 yards and threw for 1,119 yards a year ago. Fields is one reason that it appears Hicks could get off to a much faster start at Monticello than he did at Nelson County, but he’s far from the only one. Current VMI kicker Jack Culbreath is one of the lone losses from last year’s roster, and the Mustangs have electric fast Will Trent at wideout and defensive back (he was a first team All-JD pick in 2019 and headed to UVa for track and field) as well as two-way lineman and another All-JD pick in Giacomo Wilson. Trent has the speed to stretch defenses on offense and is an excellent back end defender while Wilson showed an ability to set the edge and fight through blocks as a defensive end last year. Fields has his four top pass catching options back, including leading receiver Jason Armstrong, who had 348 yards on 32 catches last year. Trent, Phillip Estes and Tony Frazier are the other three while Kai Gaines also joins the mix. They’ll all need to take a step forward this year, but a season of experience and some new energy in the program should help. Hicks liked to take some shots downfield with his quarterback at Nelson George Brown, and Fields also has a strong arm. If the Mustangs can do that it could open up a rushing attack that was entirely reliant on Fields a year ago but adds some young talent in Shawn Jones at fullback and Selorm Cartey and Logan Clark at running back. If that group can get something going downhill behind a line that’s going to get some re-tooling , that’ll be important as well. Hicks and his staff’s re-work of Nelson’s offensive line was a critical part of their improvement so expect that to be an area of improvement. Defensively, the Mustangs struggled to stop teams a year ago but Trent and Fields should be impact players at secondary alongside Chase Hummel who’ll also handle kicking duties and the wide receiving corps will flip over to linebacker with Armstrong, Estes, Frazier and Gaines all playing roles there. Jones, a junior, should be in the linebacker mix as well. Wilson gives them a defensive lineman to build around. The Mustangs faced perhaps a steeper uphill climb than anyone in the Jefferson District with new offensive and defensive systems in a pandemic, but they’ve also got a shot of energy from the new staff plus a proven entity at quarterback in Fields. Expect them to trend up in a shortened season.
Nelson County will turn to new head coach Darrin McKenzie this spring, after the Governors’ successful run under Matt Hicks where the Governors went from 0-10 to 4-6, ending years of languishing in the Dogwood basement and just missing out on the playoffs. McKenzie had a major role in that improvement as an assistant under Hicks and he will have his own rebuilding to do with the graduation of a stellar senior class that included human swiss army knife Brice Wilson, two-way standout Brandon Jamerson and stalwart middle backer and offensive lineman James Johnson. McKenzie gets the benefit of building around an entrenched starter at quarterback in lefty George Brown, a tall, speedy signal-caller ideally suited to run a spread option style attack. Brown has weapons too, with Robert Morris and Jamel Rose back at wideout while sophomores Stage Parker and DaVeon Gatewood-Rose should also make an impact as pass catchers too. The Governors also bring back speedster Aveon Tabb at running back and he’ll get a running mate in junior Johnny Oneida. That tandem will run behind a pretty seasoned line with seniors Koby Mays, Bryson Ramsey, Kavin Carter and Kevin Dillard all back. Chase Williams will also be in the mix to help offset Johnson and Alcindor Barnett’s graduating. Like most Nelson teams there will be a lot of two-way players with Tabb, Morris and Oneida set to play at linebacker while Mays, Dillard, Carter, Ramsey, Chase Williams and Will Brown should be in the mix on the defensive front. Rose, Gatewood-Rose and Parker are likely candidates to roam the secondary. Nelson County’s reclamation process that took a major step forward under Hicks is still an ongoing project of building a football culture from the ground up and that hasn’t been eased with the constraints of a pandemic that pushed the season into the spring. But Nelson has things headed in the right direction and the combination of George Brown and Tabb in particular should give Nelson a shot to produce and make progress in each and every game.
The end of the Jaylen Alexander era — Alexander finished his career at Orange as the Scrimmage Play area’s No. 2 all-time rusher with 5,624 yards — means that Orange County is going to be reinventing itself this year. Alexander was an unbelievable all-purpose back who is now at Georgetown, and much of the Hornets’ offense was built around his ability to both grind it out and break big runs for huge gains. Orange coach Jesse Lohr knows how to throw the ball around and it seems to be his preferred method of attack despite his smart choice to trust Alexander with the bulk of the offense the last three seasons. Lohr has some of the weapons to get the ball moving through the air this year too starting with Doug Newsome, a electrically fast wideout who is headed to Charlotte to play next year. Newsome can stretch defenses and beat them over the top, but he’s going to need someone who can get it there, and that’s where Paul Porier comes in. The junior quarterback steps in as the starter with Walker Johnson graduating and he has the potential to be a dynamic presence at that spot. In addition to Newsome, he’ll be able to move the ball to returning wideouts like Donald Brooks, Jayden Warren and Sihle Mthethwa as well as newcomer Nazierre McIntosh. At running back, the Hornets will likely turn to senior Markell Jackson and sophomores Thomas Payette and Bryant Chiles. Orange graduated two critical offensive linemen in Colby McGhee and Garrett Pitts, and they’ll lean heavily on senior Rebel Fretwell and junior Thomas Pierce as well as a trio of sophomores in Tre Clatterbuck, Chase Rollins and Trenton Ratliff to settle that position group. On the defensive end, Newsome leads a strong group of athletes at defensive back and that back end will need to do some heavy lifting as Alexander and Noah Carey were the foundation of the linebacking corps a year ago. At linebacker, Orange could turn to Jackson and Payette to build around but it’s certainly a group that has a lot to prove. The defensive line requires similar retooling to the offensive group and most of the same players like Fretwell, Pierce, Clatterbuck, Rollins and Ratliff will be in the mix. The Hornets have floated around .500 the last few years and to get over that hump, they’re going to need the linemen to take a big step forward. But that group of skill players, including Newsome who is among the district’s fastest players, should keep Orange in most every game it plays in.
This isn’t the scenario that St. Anne’s-Belfield envisioned when the Saints charted a course to move back to 11-man football last spring. The Saints currently have a one-game schedule that’ll be a tremendous opportunity to send off a group of seniors who helped the Saints navigate a switch to 8-man football that led to two VISFL championship game appearances and set the stage for the return to 11-man. That group is led by a couple of skill players in Gabe Decker and Amani Woods as well as a stalwart in the trenches in Luke Antesberger. All three of those players have been a major factor for the Saints since they were freshmen with Decker providing a physical presence at both running back and linebacker while Woods has been an electric tailback and defensive back. Decker is headed to Lafayette College next year to play while Woods will line up for West Virginia Wesleyan. Antesberger was an All-VISFL pick on the offensive line last year and he’ll anchor the Saints there again this year. Jackson Harry joins him in the trenches while senior Elijah Johnson, an athletic threat at tight end, will play the usual critical role both blocking and catching the ball that a tight end plays in STAB’s offense, particularly with the return to 11-man. Nick Musi is a two-way player at wideout and defensive back for the Saints and rounds out that impressive senior class. Junior Nolan Bruton returns at quarterback to help orchestrate an offense that has a number of weapons in Decker, Woods and Johnson in particular. Antesberger, Decker and Woods give the Saints a player to build around at every level of the defense while the Saints will get a jumpstart at the other spots on figuring out who can lead the Saints into the next era. The current seniors have certainly left a legacy of resilience and commitment to the program that the younger players would be wise to follow.
Western Albemarle didn’t finish the way it wanted to back in 2019 with three-straight losses to close out the year. But that’s a distant memory for the Warriors especially since they’re in the midst of a youth movement with sophomores set to play in a lot of key spots this spring. That group of young players will get to figure out how to make things work alongside one of the area’s best returning running backs as Austin Shifflett, who holds a preferred walk-on spot at UVa, will be the backfield lead for Western for the third straight year. Shifflett rushed for 877 yards and while it was a sizeable step down from the 1,700 yards he piled up as a sophomore, that was in part due to the emergence of Virginia Tech walk-on Carter Shifflett as more of a running threat at quarterback and a retooling of the Western offensive line last year. Shifflett can be a bruiser but he’s also a solid one-cut and go running back who is particularly tough to take down at the second level. Austin Shifflett gives the Warriors a major threat in the ground game that defenses have to take into account each and every play. That’s a huge plus for sophomore Hudson Toll who is set to step in at quarterback. Having Shifflett drawing attention and setting the offensive rhythm if the Warriors can get the ground game going will give Toll time to get acclimated and time to build chemistry in a passing attack that will miss Utah State’s Breaker Mendenhall. The passing and ground game should get a boost from tight end Carson Tujague who’ll also play a role at defensive end. Dakota Howell should also see some touches in a hybrid fullback, slot, tight end role and he’ll play linebacker for the Warriors as well. Sophomore Ross Bassett is poised to be a big factor at guard and linebacker while Xander Smith returns at center and defensive tackle. That offensive line unit should be stout with Kainan Miller, Spencer Burnette and Spencer Franklin joining Bassett and Smith to clear the way for Shifflett and keep Toll’s jersey clean. The Warriors will have to ask a lot from their young players and they’ll have to do it without the full offseason development cycle, but Shifflett should give them a chance to hang in each game on the schedule and if everyone else takes a step forward, the Warriors should improve as the season progresses.
The last three seasons, William Monroe football has proven that while the Dragons are slow starters (0-4, 0-4, 0-3 in 2019) they know how to get things going in the right direction. Last year’s 0-3 start eventually led to a 6-5 season (including a huge road win over Western) and a playoff berth. A lot of key players have graduated though, including 1,000-yard rusher Dupree Rucker and Kaiden Pritchett, who headed to Richmond to play football. The Dragons return some offensive firepower though in senior receivers Logan Barbour and Jeremy Savoie and there’s a lot to build around up front with returners Trevor Myers, Jack Garies and Daniel Gall on the offensive line. To replace Rucker it’ll likely take a committee, with Alex Hoffman, Michael McCauley and sophomore newcomer Josh Johnson in line to get carries, and coach Jon Rocha is high on all three, with Hoffman a stout, physical runner and future shotputter at High Point while McCauley and Johnson are both shiftier backs who pack a punch. Tying that offensive group together at quarterback with the graduation of Jared Knights will likely be senior Blaise VanDyke. Having that diverse group of weapons should ease his transition into the starting spot. Defensively, Barbour and Savoie should be factors at corner while Dalean Powell-Jackson will step in at safety with big shoes to fill after Pritchett’s extremely productive career. Isaiah Taylor returns at defensive end but the Dragons will miss David Mack and Xzabia Kolpack in the front seven and will need a number of players to rise to the occasion. Possibly the biggest question mark for the Dragons actually comes back to those slow starts. With a shortened season, starting slow is particularly tough because there just aren’t as many games to get on track. If the Dragons can get in rhythm early and meld all those offensive weapons together, they could be throwing up some serious points in Stanardsville this spring.