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:
Patrick Riley‘s pass near the sideline had just fallen incomplete, bringing another play during the final moments of W.T. Woodson’s Thursday football practice to a disappointing end. As the senior quarterback hustled back to the huddle, a voice from the sideline was already admonishing Riley and his teammates.
“Faster, faster,” yelled new Cavaliers Coach Mike Dougherty. “We’ve got to get on the line and hurry up. We’re walking around too much.”
On the surface, it looks like chaos; at its core, the disorder belies direction. Players shout words like “Blockbuster” across the field while coaches hold up numbers along the sideline, each symbol triggering a flurry of movement and substitutions before the ball is quickly hiked in hopes of catching the defense off guard.
After six years of elevated success at Stonewall Jackson — the last of which saw the Raiders make a run to the Virginia 6A North region semifinals — Dougherty has brought his high-octane spread offense to Woodson with a goal of jolting the Cavaliers out of a funk that has resulted in a 10-30 record during the past four seasons after the team went 11-2 in 2009.
“With the struggles of the last few years, we didn’t know how to win because pretty much all the guys on our team have never experienced much success,” said Riley, who threw for 1,085 yards, 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last year. “But with a new coach who’s proven he can win, there’s excitement and a belief that we can turn things around.”
Both Dougherty and the players understand that success isn’t bred overnight, especially for a team that’s not only learning a new offense but lacks the electrifying playmakers, like quarterback Greg Stroman (now at Virginia Tech), who Dougherty had at his disposal at Stonewall.
The change in personnel, however, should bring a greater attention to detail, meaning Dougherty will have a chance to unearth the talent dwelling among the 75 students who came out for the first week of practice, an uptick of about 25 players from last year’s turnout.
“It’s kind of like teaching a kid to swim. You throw them in the pool and hope they can keep their head above water,” Dougherty joked Thursday. “But it’s about getting the kids out of their comfort zone because they are used to getting to a certain point but it’s only halfway right. We’ve got to get them to run through that wall and reach their potential.”
Along with Riley, senior receiving targets China Moon, who also displays his explosive ability at defensive back, Will Cogan and transfer Andrew Snodgrass will be counted upon to lead the offensive attack anchored along the line by Lion Nitschke.
Dougherty expects the players to ease into the system and reach a place of proficiency by their first regular season matchup at Oakton on Aug. 29.
“Practicing it in the spring some during the green days helped us get started but it’s a work in progress,” Cogan said. “You never get a break. The only time you rest is to drink some water and then when you get home. But for as crazy as it seems, it’s a lot of fun and can lead to a lot of good things.”
While this faster pace of play creates the potential for more points, which is good for a Woodson team that averaged just 15 points a year ago, it places a responsibility on the defense to do its part in maintaining leads and preventing opponents from answering with touchdowns of their own.
Senior Jacob Oleyar will be looked to as a defensive stalwart at the linebacker spot, along with about a dozen other playersform whom Dougherty has seen flashes of promise during the first week of practice.
“Along with pushing our own team out of its comfort zone, we want to put our opponents in a situation they aren’t accustomed to so that by the second quarter, they are tugging on their pants from being tired,” Dougherty said. “It takes winning to teach winning and in re-establishing this program, we want to make others teams start worrying about us.”
More from the Camp Countdown series