Sterling teams hope for strong seasons
In the second installment of Loudoun Two-a-Days, I complete the Sterling trifecta, visiting Route 7 rivals Dominion, Park View and Potomac Falls amid intermittent downpours on Thursday afternoon.
Previous entries: Broad Run, Briar Woods
DOMINION (2009: 4-6, 2-4)
One year after finishing 1-9, Dominion made tremendous strides in Karl Buckwalter's second season at the helm, accomplishing a number of firsts for the program and only narrowly missing the playoffs. The Titans needed one win in their final two games of the season against Park View and Briar Woods to reach the postseason for the first time ever, but their offensive deficiencies and overmatched lines caught up to them down the stretch.
Now with their top skill players entering their senior seasons and their strongest and fastest team to date, the Titans are more motivated than ever to prove they belong in the upper echelon of the AA Dulles District.
Expectations have never been higher for the Titans and to help his team achieve its goal of finally reaching the playoffs, Buckwalter said he put his players through the most strenuous training regimen he's ever created in more than 20 years of coaching. So far, the work in the weight room and intense conditioning appears to be paying off.
"There's a big difference between hope and believing," Buckwalter said. "I think in year one and year two, we're hoping to win, we're hoping to get a break. And I think we're just about ready to start believing, and that's going to come with wins. Our expectation is to get in the playoffs. We want to be one of those teams playing an 11th game."
Lightning-fast running back Deandre Reaves, who rushed for a career-high 1,280 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman, enters his senior year determined to cap a stellar career with a playoff berth. Pressed into duty as a wildcat quarterback following an injury to starter Trey Baxter, Reaves performed admirably but the Titans offense sputtered with its best playmaker taking direct snaps on every play. With Baxter healthy, wideouts Sammy Coleman and Dashaun Welsey talented enough to keep teams from putting eight men in the box to stop Reaves and a much-improved offensive line, the Titans hope to finally find balance and consistency on offense in 2010.
"I want to leave with a bang," said Reaves, who gave a verbal commitment to West Virginia on Saturday. "I want to leave knowing that I gave my all and did everything I could to help my team win and reach our goal of making the playoffs."
PARK VIEW (2009: 8-4, 4-2)
Following a frustrating 2008 season, Park View bounced back in a big way last fall, rallying around a stellar senior class to reach the Division 3 Region II final. And despite graduating 21 seniors, the bitter taste of the 33-7 rout at Handley that abruptly ended Park View's season still lingers for the handful of starters who return this fall.
"We're tired of being runners-up," senior linebacker Eric Palma said. "We're mentally tough and physically prepared to make a run this year. This senior class has gotten it into the heads of everybody that we want to make a run and go all the way."
The Patriots also lost head coach Andy Hill, who took the same position at South Lakes, and was replaced by former Centreville standout and position coach Ferris Eways. With experience as a strength and conditioning intern with the Washington Redskins and a graduate assistant at Michigan State, Eways hopes to maintain continuity at the tradition-rich school while instilling toughness and discipline in his new charges.
Every year it seems the Patriots deal with adversity, be it in the form of injuries, enrollment depletion, raised athletic fees that shrink their roster or massive graduating classes like last spring's. But Eways is confident his squad, led by a defense that returns eight players who saw significant time last season, can continue to be a contender in the Dulles District and Division 3.
"It's a defensive-minded football team," Eways said. "All these guys want to do is hit and attack and pursue and react, and I think I'm fortunate to have a group of guys who understand the game and have really worked hard to get ready for the season."
Offensively, quarterback Alec Domkowski has made a strong impression while fellow junior Jonathan Wooten has the arm strength and running skill to be a dual-threat in the backfield. Speedy junior receivers Dante Absher and Ryan McCarter will open things up for senior slot man Ben Pick while Heritage transfer Roger Smith could be the starting tailback in an offense that will feature some spread and I-pro formations.
POTOMAC FALLS (2009: 3-7, 1-5)
Mike Gims has been playing catch up since he arrived in Sterling, only a month before training camp began at Potomac Falls.
Rather than carry over starters and depth charts from departed coach Greg Woodlief's tenure, Gims chose to start fresh, encouraging open competition at every position and forcing veterans and newcomers alike to battle for roles on the team.
His calm demeanor is a far cry from the gruff intensity of Woodlief's Friday night demeanor, but Gims hopes the philosophy shared by his coaching staff will help the Panthers bounce back from a disappointing campaign. After reaching the Division 4 Region II title game in 2008, Potomac Falls suffered losses up and down its roster and its follow up campaign was derailed by injuries and an 0-3 start to the Dulles District schedule.
"I'm kind of calm and I guess you might say relaxed," said Gims, who spent two years at the helm of Trinity International University of the NAIA. "When players make mistakes, I want them to understand what they did wrong so they can fix it. Our job as coaches is we're encouragers, and we want to help these guys have a great experience."
A year ago, junior quarterback Kyle Bulger led the team in passing after senior Zac Hobby was banged up in the first few weeks of the season. But the Panthers -- who return six starters on offense and seven on defense -- only managed to reach double-digits on the scoreboard five times and lost five games by 20 or more points. Gims hopes conditioning and added depth will help Potomac Falls become a player in the district race once again this fall.