Devastated faces and teary eyes made up the Centreville locker room following last year’s Virginia AAA Division 6 Northern Region semifinal. The Wildcats had just watched Oakton — a team they had defeated by 21 points just two weeks earlier — snatch away their title hopes on a last-second touchdown in front of their home crowd.
In cases like these, whether realistic or not, the natural response among underclassmen is that they will use the loss as motivation for the following year. But as Wildcats quarterback Scott Walter scanned a room featuring 10-plus returning starters, he knew redemption wasn’t far-fetched. In fact, it was almost expected.
“Right after that game, we all said that next year is our year,” Walter recalled. “It was a short summer because we all got out here working our butts off in drills and the weight room. We’re working to set ourselves up for success.”
On paper, the pieces for success are there for Centreville. For the first time in his six years as a head coach, Chris Haddock possesses a two-year starter at quarterback in Walter. Coming off a 1,152-yard, 14-touchdown campaign as just a sophomore, rusher A.J. Turner leads a loaded backfield. What’s more, all-region LB/DL Chad Wiggins and defensive back Charles Tutt return to anchor a unit that has plenty of speed and power.
Still, Haddock knows that championships aren’t won on paper, which is something he consistently reminds his players.
“I’ve been doing this 21 seasons and this is one of best groups of talented kids I’ve ever been around, but there’s a lot of components that play into being successful,” Haddock said. “Talent alone doesn’t get you very far. We’re going to have to execute properly, take care of the ball and stay healthy. We’re not above fundamentals. All the things that other teams are required to do to succeed, we have to do them, too.”
That’s where the offseason came into play for the Wildcats. Wiggins expanded his knowledge of the playbook so that he could better lead the defense. Walter worked on improving his vocal leadership skills. And Turner focused on his strength and precision in order to complement his explosive playmaking ability as a running back and defensive back.
“After the way last year ended and with the experience we have, we’re a lot better as leaders,” Wiggins said. “You can see guys taking two-a-days seriously and making sure they do the little things right.”
Depth and big-play potential are sprinkled throughout the Centreville roster. Turner and Tutt both produced multiple pick-sixes while Xavier Nickens-Yzer broke open the Wildcats’ playoff-opening win against West Potomac with a 57-yard rushing touchdown and a 99-yard kickoff return score.
To maximize these attributes, Haddock features many of his skill players as two-way starters. Turner relishes this opportunity and believes it’s what helps make the Wildcats one of the area’s most dangerous teams.
“It’s all about working hard and putting ourselves in a position to be effective,” Turner said. “We know what we’re capable of, but we have to go out and show that every week if we want to accomplish our goals.”