Weekly Briefing Week One Part One
Monticello (0-0) at Western Albemarle (0-0), 6:30 p.m. Monday
The Basics: What a way to start the first ever spring football regular season, with one of the area’s most intense rivalries with snow still dotting the ground. It’s essentially like plunging right into playoff football on day one. The Mustangs are under new management this year with assistant Matt Hicks returning to the fold and leading the way and he takes over with UVa signee Malachi Fields in his third year as Monticello’s starting quarterback. It’s an excellent system fit between Hicks and Fields and we could see some of the stuff that Hicks ran with George Brown at Nelson and helped run as an assistant back at Monticello with another three-year starter, Jhalil Mosley. The Warriors will lean heavily on Austin Shifflett in this one as he enters his third year as the starting running back for Western and now the Warriors will have to figure out what to build around him with Carter Shifflett moving on to Virginia Tech. They’ll likely turn to Hudson Toll at quarterback, but look for Western to make things easy on the young signal-caller and try and get a rhythm going in the ground game with some new offensive wrinkles. There’s a lot to learn about both these squads and a pack of young players playing key roles on both sides, but they’ll jump right into the deep end Monday night.
Key matchup: Monticello’s fleet of returning wideouts takes on Western’s secondary. The Mustangs essentially have everyone back in the receiving corps and while they weren’t hugely productive back in 2019, that year of seasoning and a new offensive system under Hicks should give that position group a jolt in the arm. Will Trent’s speed is among the best in the state, that’s why he won the Class 3 indoor 300 and 55 meter races as a junior. Jason Armstrong has shown flashes of being a reliable pair of hands and had an explosive touchdown a year ago against Western. Phillip Estes and Tony Frazier are also big on potential and could be in for breakout years with Fields throwing the ball to them. Western’s secondary is filled with question marks after some key graduations, so don’t be surprised if the Mustangs test the new group early.
Who to Watch: Western’s offensive line. The Warriors’ group of Kainian Miller, Ross Bassett, Xander Smith, Spencer Burnette and Spencer Franklin is young but has the potential to be a solid unit. It’ll be mission critical that they work together well because they only need to open a crease or two to get Shifflett to the next level where he’s dangerous. This is the first step in the process for this group to set the tone and pace for the Warriors and protect first time varsity starter, sophomore Hudson Toll. The mission is pretty simple. Open things up for Shifflett and keep Toll’s pocket clean and Western should be able to get the offense moving.
The Line: Monticello by 7. Fields makes the difference here for the Mustangs against a Western team with a lot of new faces.
Louisa County (0-0) at Charlottesville (0-0), 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
The Basics: For a community that lives and breathes football, there’s been a lot to like outside of the gridiron already in 2021 with the Lions’ girls basketball team winning a state title and Owen Greslick picking up a state wrestling championship. Just two days later, Louisa’s favorite sons will take the field in what’s technically a Louisa home game but will be played at Charlottesville’s turf because of recent winter weather rendering the Lions’ natural surface unplayable. Louisa has graduated two unbelievable classes the last two seasons, but there’s reason to think this group could be stout as well, with Landon Wilson at quarterback and Kalup Shelton at running back giving the Lions a strong offensive foundation. Wilson’s ability to move the ball through the air gets a huge boost from receivers like Jordan Smith, Logan McGhee, Chase Miller, T.J. Young and Armani Comfort. If that quintet can catch consistently, it’ll build some confidence in the coaching staff to open things up, but Shelton is a hard-charging classic Louisa running back and he’s going to get a lot of touches. Charlottesville counters with Jaleom Adams-Mallory and the power back will need to set the tone with a new quarterback under center. If Adams-Mallory can get things moving and the Black Knights can keep the ball out of a potentially explosive Louisa offense’s hands, that’ll be huge for CHS’s chances.
Key matchup: Charlottesville’s offensive line takes on Louisa’s young, talented defensive front. The Black Knights have to get the ball moving on the ground to make their offense click. But doing that against the likes of Qwenton Spellman and Eli Brooks is no easy task. The Lions have six players who can rotate into the front of their 3-5-3 defense without losing much of a step. That means a pack of fresh, hard-nosed linemen are going to be trying to plug gaps, set the edge and knife into the backfield all night. That could be trouble for an offensive line that struggled a year ago and the Black Knights will lean heavily on Devin Shifflett up front.
Who to Watch: Louisa’s A.J. Proffitt. Proffitt is a pure football player, big, athletic and tough and he gets a big opportunity this spring to make an impact on both sides of the ball after playing in a loaded couple of position groups the last two years as a linebacker and tight end alongside Austin Sims and Aaron Aponte. Now Proffitt, a Bridgewater commit, is the guy who can help make Louisa tick and you expect he’s fired up about the opportunity. Proffitt can bring the violence on defense, he’s also a relentless blocker and he could see some action in the passing game.
The Line: Louisa by 21. Tough opener for the Black Knights because the Lions have perhaps the area’s best one-two punch in the backfield with Ellis and Shelton.
William Monroe (0-0) at Manassas Park (0-0), 7 p.m. Tuesday
The Basics: William Monroe is going to have a lot of new faces in the fold and that group will have to get started fast with a long road trip against Manassas Park to open the season. Monroe’s offense a year ago was built largely around Dupree Rucker and rightfully so, Rucker is an excellent running back. But now the Dragons have a trio of runners in Alex Hoffman, Michael McCauley and Josh Johnson. Whether one of those runners emerges as a bellcow or the Dragons spread the wealth remains to be seen, but they’re part of a large group of offensive weapons that just need to find an early rhythm. The defense lost key members at each level, so they’ll need to see some younger players step up in a big way this year and it starts Tuesday night on the road.
Key matchup: Manassas Park’s wideouts take on the Dragons’ secondary. While Kaiden Pritchett’s graduation leaves a big hole to fill, William Monroe has some talented back end players like Logan Barbour, Jeremy Savoie at corner and Dalean Powell-Jackson at safety that could make them one of the area’s more athletic secondaries. Testing them might be trouble for the Cougars.
Who to watch: William Monroe’s Blaise VanDyke. The Dragons have weapons like Barbour and Savoie at wideout that are potential gamebreakers. But VanDyke is going to have to get the ball to them in his first year as the starter, and with offseason work they’ll need to find chemistry fast. VanDyke should have time because three key linemen are back in Trevor Myers, Jack Gareis and Daniel Hall.
The Line: William Monroe by 7. The Dragons’ young group has the potential to get started with a road win.