2014 Camp Countdown: Wootton Patriots


Wootton opened preseason practice on Wednesday afternoon. (Isabelle Khurshudyan/The Washington Post).

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:

In one of the Wootton football team’s first meetings with new Coach Eddie Tolliver, a question about the starting depth chart came up. Tolliver turned around to the blank chalkboard behind him and said, “There it is right there.”

“Someone said, ‘But Coach, it’s blank,” Tolliver recounted. “I said, ‘That’s right. You’ve got to earn your spot.’”

Tolliver started preseason practices on Wednesday by naming no preliminary starters or first team. On a depleted Wootton squad that took a hit when six players transferred to the Avalon School in the offseason, everyone is at zero. The Patriots open the season at Walter Johnson on Sept. 5.

“I’ve pulled enough kids during things that we’ve done to show them that no one is an incumbent,” Tolliver said. “To me, it’s not about how long you’ve played football, it’s about how well you adapt to our system.”

The Patriots were 5-5 last season, the first time since 2008 the team finished without a losing record. Coach Tyree Spinner resigned after the season, but “not by choice,” he told The Post. Spinner became the head coach at Avalon, and six players, including star wide receiver Trevon Diggs, followed him there.

Diggs, a four-star recruit, had 1,103 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns last season. Wootton will also be without its second-leading scorer from the 2013 campaign – Jibri Woods, who scored seven touchdowns as a senior and had more than 1,000 yards receiving.

“We’ve got an inner circle and you’re either part of it or you’re not part of it,” junior lineman Patrick Bernardo said. “The people outside it don’t really matter to us.”

Wootton brought back Tolliver, who resigned after the 2011 season for health reasons. He had a stroke or a heart attack during a game in 2010, and he weighed 415 pounds. Now he’s 195 pounds lighter, running five-mile races and doing CrossFit workouts “without passing out,” he said.

Senior Jack Pykosh said Tolliver never reveals favoritism and is an “old-school coach.” Tolliver focused on getting everyone on the same page for the first day, so there was a heavy emphasis on the basics. Tolliver said he’ll evaluate players up until the third scrimmage on Aug. 29 against Sherwood before deciding on a first team.

The Patriots are seen as underdogs in Montgomery County after losing significant players from last year. Pykosh and Bernardo said the underdog tag is motivation. Tolliver said there’s no place he’d rather be.

“That’s great. I love that,” Tolliver said. “I can’t control what people do and nor am I in the business of controlling them. I want players who want to be here, who are striving to make this school better.”

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Isabelle Khurshudyan covers high school sports for The Washington Post.
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