With the kickoff of the 2014 high school football season quickly approaching, our reporters will be out at local practices checking in with contenders, dark horses and rebuilding teams alike as they gear up for the fall. Here is the next installment of our Camp Countdown:
Around this time of year, Said Aziz typically finds himself waiting, his optimism fighting a losing battle against reality. Though the first day of football practice opened the first week of August, at least another seven days would pass before enough Falls Church students had trickled out to the field to create some semblance of a team during Aziz’s first three years as coach.
But with the Jaguars replacing their 5-25 combined mark from the previous three seasons with an 8-4 record last fall and voids to fill following the graduation of players who helped lead the school to its first playoff victory in more than 30 years, Aziz had to close off the floodgate of students hoping to join his team as practice began this week.
“We’ve had to turn away guys, which is a good problem to have, I guess,” Aziz said following the Wednesday morning portion of two-a-days. “For the first time, we can call this an organization and we have momentum that we can build off, and I’m confident we will keep building and be successful this year.”
On paper, it appears the Jaguars would need all the able bodies they can get to replace the offensive standouts lost to graduation, including all-state wide receiver Jordan Coneys (88 catches for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns), quarterback Adam Daly (2,586 passing yards, 22 touchdowns) and running back Dieon Dupont (1,024 yards, 16 total scores). But playmakers still abound on both sides of the ball, beginning with offensive lineman Kendall Trautz and dual-threat, two-way starter Will Mejia.
The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Trautz is explosive on the offensive line, where he will be joined by guard Eric Rivera and two other returning starters to open holes for the speedy Mejia. Both Trautz and Rivera will also be tasked with playing on the defensive line as part of a unit that should prove tough against the run.
“I’ve heard coaches say, ‘the harder you work, the luckier you can get,’ and based off of last year, we know anything is possible,” said Trautz, who helped the Jaguars average 31.3 points per game last year. “I feel more physically ready, and I’ve been working on my conditioning so that this year’s team can write another story in the history books.”
This readiness and experience will be critical in pushing the Jaguars past last season’s struggles in close games. Three of their four losses came by an average of four points, a margin that could make for a higher playoff seed and even more playoff momentum should Falls Church turn those games in their favor this year.
“We’ve got to work harder if we want to win the conference,” Mejia said.
After scoring 12 touchdowns on about 10 touches per game, Mejia’s load will increase as he lines up at both the running back and receiver positions where coaching hope to use his speed (he runs a 4.4 40-yard dash) to spark an offense that averaged 31.3 points last year. Aziz also feels confident in the ability of junior rusher Anthony Crutchfield, new quarterback Brian Eck and wide receivers Adrian Collins (sophomore transfer from O’Connell) and KC Ico.
Mejia’s wide range of skills will also pit him at safety, where the Jaguars coaches feel his physicality and speed make him just as good at defending the run as he is on passing downs. This ability, mixed with linebackers Daniel Diaz (three-year starter) and Tyler Warren, are why Aziz is confident that this year’s Jaguars are primed to prove that last season was no fluke.
“We see the guys playing with more pride and they know the bar has been raised,” Aziz said. “There’s a lot of talent on this team and they aren’t satisfied with last season. They want to accomplish similar success but also take it to another level.”
More from the Camp Countdown series