2014 Camp Countdown: Gonzaga Eagles


Gonzaga senior offensive lineman Richie Petitbon (74) will help lead a talented Eagles team in their quest to win their first WCAC title since 2002. (John McDonnell / 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:

When Randy Trivers took over as Gonzaga’s football coach in May, he heard plenty about the droves of talented players he was inheriting — the senior duo ranked among the nation’s top 100 in their class, according to Rivals; the five standouts who have committed to Football Bowl Subdivision schools; the two players with Washington Redskins roots and budding talent to match.

Noticeably absent from the list of accolades was any mention of championships — Gonzaga last won a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference football crown in 2002. To make sure this fact wasn’t lost on his players, Trivers, who led Northwest to the Maryland 3A state title in 2004, took time during the first week of practice to show his team just what it takes to turn its talent into a title.

“One day after practice [at the Soldier Home field], he took us to watch the Changing of the Guard,” senior running back Reggie Corbin said. “He talked about how those soldiers do this every day, how they take the same steps and how they didn’t even have to look at what they were doing because they were careful to be perfect from day one. Coach T is teaching us that whether it’s stretching, warming up or the way we eat, we’ve got to strive for perfection as a unit.”

Nuggets of wisdom — along with ample opportunity to apply them — have peppered the opening weeks of preseason training for one of the area’s top teams, exhorting the players to ignore the hype and push past their comfort zones in hopes of capturing a WCAC title — a feat the players felt was snatched away when injuries befelled quarterback Nick Johns and wide receiver Jabari Greenwood in the final month of the 2013 season, ultimately dooming them in a WCAC semifinal loss to St. John’s.

“As seniors and after what happened last year with us, we’ve been waiting for this season to play together with what we feel is a great senior class,” said cornerback and Arizona recruit Sammy Morrison, whose father Daryl played for the Redskins. “But nothing’s going to be given to us. We’ve got to work hard and bring it all together as one.”

Both Johns, a Virginia commit, and Greenwood, a Kentuucky recruit, are back at full strength this fall with added bulk and chemistry following an offseason of camps, hours in the weight room and more time spent together working on the field.

The same can be said for Corbin, who packed on 15 pounds of muscle in anticipation of the extra rushing load he’ll shoulder following the graduation of running back Robbie Walker and a junior campaign that saw Corbin record 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns, mostly behind imposing left tackle and Alabama commit Richie Petitbon.

On the other side of the ball, junior linebacker Kyle Taylor excels in tackling and on blitzes with his physical style, while senior Marcus Lewis displays proficiency both in coverage and in the box as a safety, giving the Eagles the option to use multiple looks on defense.

With the relationship between this skilled bunch and Trivers not even at its three-month mark, the Gonzaga coach has worked to expedite the bonding process by using meetings, their retreat, team meals — anything, really — to spend quality time with his new players as they get to know his brand of tough love.

“There’s no substitute for time when developing relationships and building the intangibles for any group to be successful,” Trivers said. “I have high expectations and I never want to put a ceiling on what these guys can do. It’s my job as their coach to help them see another level that that they didn’t realize they could reach and get them there.”

The Eagles’ ascension to these new heights will be critical all year, from travailing the always-tough WCAC to their Sept. 5 matchup on ESPNU against the area’s top public school team, defending Virginia 6A state champion, Centreville. And by season’s end, there’s only one barometer the Eagles will use in measuring their success — a championship.

“Coach T reminds us all the time that even though we have kids that are ranked and going to big colleges, we haven’t done anything,” Lewis said. “Everyone expects us to win, but unless we actually go out and do it, all of the ratings and everything means nothing.”

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