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 latest installment of our Camp Countdown:
As several Battlefield seniors talked casually during a break between Wednesday’s two-a-day practices, the notion of the Bobcats airing it out more in their passing game was tossed into the conversation.
Immediately, senior quarterback Matt Gallagher’s eyes lit up before he turned to his right, where senior wide receiver Matt Scott stood with a wide smile on his face.
“No way,” Gallagher exclaimed, almost in disbelief. “You think we might?”
“That’d be pretty cool if we did,” a nodding Scott responded.
Doing so would be a stark contrast from the power running game that’s made the Bobcats a perennial playoff contender under Coach Mark Cox, but it’s also in the realm of possibility this season with the wealth of experienced weapons at Battlefield’s disposal.
Gallagher and Scott make up two of the nine starters returning on offense, forming for a chemistry that some say was missing at times last season, when the Bobcats lost in the first round of the Virginia 6A playoffs to Langley. The outcome marked the first time since 2008 that Battlefield had failed to win at least one postseason contest.
The unit and excitement percolating through this year’s roster was on display during the first practice when players took part in hitting drills, which are better known as “Oklahoma.”
“We got really hyped up for those,” Gallagher said. “Everybody was pushing each other to do their best and I even trucked someone…well, I tried to get in there but the coaches weren’t too happy about their quarterback being in those drills.”
Tackling aside, Cox expects Gallagher to be a key component in Battlefield’s attack during his second year as the starter. After throwing for 1,677 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions last season, Gallagher has shown improvements in his arm strength and decision-making during practice while finding Scott, a possession receiver, and deep threat Zac Kerxton.
He’ll be complemented by a stable of five running backs led by Corey Parker, an elusive senior rusher, Sam Drzal and Brendan Boney, who recorded a team-high 468 yards on the ground last season.
“We’ve got enough guys back there to where we can give different looks and stay with whoever has the hot hand on a given night,” Cox said.
Paving the way for this quintet will be a sizable offensive line that should hold the advantage over most opposing defenses, thanks to pillars like senior Jon Jacobs (6-3, 270 pounds) and Andrew Naylor (6-6, 270). At 5-11, senior center Noah Zentz is perhaps the smallest of the unit but his explosive speed and strong savvy make him a leader on the line and at the linebacker spot.
“Last year was the first year having a big role on varsity for a number of guys, so I think it was sort of a learning season for a lot of us,” Zentz said. “We’ve put in the offseason work to get better and we know more so what it takes to reach our goals.”
As a defense, the Bobcats want to play with more aggression and better execution, attributes that they hope to keep building over time in preparation for the latter part of their schedule which features tough games with Hylton, Stonewall Jackson and Patriot.
Parker and his younger brother, Collin, along with Drzal and Chris Ferrill make up a strong secondary that has the skills to play man coverage as well as roam the field to create turnovers.
While Battlefield has its share of size and speed at various positions, both coaches and players are quick to say that there are no superstars within this bunch. Instead, they feature veterans who understand their respective roles in helping the Bobcats regain their previous postseason success, all while adding their own special twist.
“We were a little disappointed with how last year went, but the guys coming back gained valuable experience together,” Scott said. “Whether we pass it more or run the ball hard, we’re going to do it with confidence because we know the next guy has our back.”