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:
Briar Woods senior Jake Maffe zipped crisp passes to receivers, handled interviews and joked with teammates with a cool and calm demeanor at the Falcons Wednesday practice at Rock Ridge High School in Ashburn. Rather than focus on the pressure of filling the shoes of four-year starter Trace McSorley, Maffe is simply working on being himself.
For two seasons as the No. 2 quarterback, he watched McSorley, now at Penn State, carve defenses with his legs and arm, but now it’s Maffe turn to lead the Falcons. Maffe doesn’t possess the mobility of McSorley, and he’s perfectly fine with that.
“I’m not trying to be the next Trace McSorley, I’m trying to be the first Jake Maffe,” he said. “I want to be my own brand of football, and play my game. I’m a pocket passer, so I’m going to trust my offensive line to give me the time to deliver the ball.”
The Virginia 5A state finalist that fell to L.C. Bird in heartbreaking fashion 35-28 lost 22 seniors, but the expectations are unchanged for a team that’s won three state championships in the past four seasons. Even without last season’s deep and talented senior class, Briar Woods has 15 returning starters, and an itch to end the season back on top.
Aiding in Maffe’s transition to starter are dynamic options all over the field. Speedy wide receiver Brandon Polk (Penn State commit) starts the season healthy after recovering from a wrist injury in the summer. Athletic senior Tristan Carter will see more passes thrown his direction at wide receiver, along with junior tight end Mark Birmingham who holds Florida State, Florida and Virgina Tech offers. The Falcons will get junior wide receiver/defensive back Ryan Rutkowski back around Week 2 due to a knee injury he suffered earlier this month.
“He’s got guys around him with experience,” Briar Woods Coach Charlie Pierce said. “Sometimes the quarterback has to rally the offense, but it might be a situation this year when [Bryan] Capozzoli and the line will say ‘I know you can get the job done.’ Or a receiver will tell him ‘I know you can get the ball to me.’ It might be a little more returning experienced players assisting in the maturation of our quarterback.”
The 6-foot-3 Maffe will have one of the biggest offensive lines in the state in front of him with Darrell Ramey and Chase Brown (James Madison) at the tackle positions. Combined with guards Bryan Capozzoli and Jon Hirsch and center Jake Serigne, the Falcons offensive line has an average size of 6-foot-4, 263 pounds.
Capozzoli will look to have another big year defensively after leading the team in tackles for a loss (20) and sacks (9.5). The 6-foot-2, 235-pound nose tackle anchors the Falcons three-man defensive front with ends Ramey and Birmingham.
Just behind him, senior Dominic Moore leads the linebacking core. After a full offseason in the Falcons, program he is is up to 215 pounds at strong side linebacker. Moore has been more physical and vocal in the summer, and the coaching staff expects a big year out of him.
The secondary has returning starter Chris McMillian at corner and junior Anthony Page has earned the job on the other side of the field.
“Up front we need to be tough. We can’t let people run over us or anything like that.” Capozzoli said. “We have to pressure the quarterback and make it easier on our defensive backs and safeties.”
The team has rallied around Pierce in recent weeks after the passing of his wife, Tammie, on July 19 after a decades-long battle with Type 1 diabetes. The team will wear a grey sticker for diabetes in her honor on their helmets with Tammie’s initials, T.S.P. Pierce said over 20 players arrived at his Frederick home the day after her passing.
“It’s been more of family environment. I feel the love more,” Pierce said. “When that kind of stuff goes down you never know how people are going to react. The love I felt from the players, the community and the school really touched me a lot. It’s helped me get through things and helped me to survive each day.”