During the past eight seasons in the Virginia Youth Football League's 140-pound class, the Vienna Raiders have managed to rack up 85 consecutive victories, which many say is the longest string of wins in football history.
In their 1976 season, the Raiders scored 682 points, gave up only 33 and capped their success by snapping the Virginia Beach Packers' 45-game winning streak in Post-season play.
"I think they (the Raiders) probably have a little different philosophy (than their opponents) - go out and win at any cost," says Henry Jawish, who used to coach a rival team. "Maybe they should find some better competition than this league provides them."
Intense coaching and a roster nearly twice the size of the competition help account for the Raiders' success. It is generally acknowledged, however, that the team's two two-hour practice sessions from mid-August to early September put them over the top. Their rivals generally work out only once a day.
League rules do not restrict the number of drills for 12-to-16-year-olds in senior weight classes (120 and 140 pounds) prior to the start of school. Once classes begin, however, teams are permitted to hold no more than three 90-minute practices a week.
Herb McWilliams, who has coached the Raiders for the past 10 years, is alone among his counterparts in regularly holding the two-a-day workouts, which, he says, "get the kids in shape" and reduce the likelihood of injuries. The only mishap he recalls in the past eight years is "one strained knee ligament."
"Most coaches can only hold practices in the evening, after work," says Fred Fielding, football commissioner for the Fairfax City police youth club. "None of our coaches have held two-a-days, including senior weights."
McWilliams, a sergeant in the Vienna Police Department, says he sometimes has to take annual leave to make the Raider's 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. practices.
League Commissioner Gene Nelson favors limiting all practices before school starts to one daily two-hour workout. "I'm worried about heat exhaustion," he says. "But my concern was not shared by the (league) board when we discussed rules before the season started.
"Now, I can agree to two-a-days with someone like Herb McWilliams running them, but not with some of the others."
Many of those "others," however, apparently oppose a rule against the extra sessions.
"There's no need to penalize them just because they can hold two-a-days," says Jawish, the former coach of the fairfax team. Last year, he days, the Fairfax squad won nine and lost two, allowing only 30 points in its victories. Both losses came at the hands of the Raiders - 44 to 0 and then 58 to 0 in the league's championship game.
Because of a decline in enrollment not as a result of being demoralized by the Raiders - Jawish says, Fairfax will not have a 140-pound team this year.
"Most of our boys got too big or too old to play this year," he says. "We had a good team, but that additional practice every day helps Vienna. The coaches can provide that extra attention."
"I probably wouldn't hold two-a-days even if I had the time," says Payton Harris, coach of the McLean 140-pound team, which was one of only four to score against the Raiders last year, losing 58 to 8. "I think that much practice is a little too much for some kids.
"It doesn't bother me that he (McWilliams) conducts his program that way. It's a good one, and it sure seems to pay off. The only thing that does bother me is that I know I'll have to contend with them during the season, and they'll be really well prepared."
While most of the 140-pound teams have a squad of about 15, the Raiders carry close to 30. McWilliams attributes the relatively high turnout to his team's reputation as a winner.
"Kid know about the Raiders," he says. "They know we demand a lot of hard work. Everyone puts in 100 per cent, including the coaches."
The raiders' success, McWilliams says, has prompted rumors that he recruits players who are seeing little playing time on high school squads and that he encourages some prospects to lose large amounts of weight to fall within prescribed limits: 155 pounds for 12-year-olds, 150 for 13-year-olds, 145 for 14-year-olds, 140 for 15-year-olds and 130 for 16-year-olds.
"Any successful team has people talking about it." McWilliams says. "As far as the high schools go, some freshman teams carry 60 guys for a six-game season. Some of the lighter boys don't get much chance to play. We don't solicit them, but we let them know they can play for us.
"We've never lost a kid at weigh-in, because we don't take a kid with more than 12 pounds to lose. If a kid does need to lose some weight, we call his parents and tell them the situation and let them take it from there. We can't get involved in suggesting methods to lose weight.
"Once in a while we might take a kid to a steam bath to sweat off a couple of pounds, but that's it."
McWilliams says the thing he enjoys most about coaching the Raiders is that "We start over with almost a completely new team each year." he says he looks forward to evaluating new personnel and reteaching plays and techniques. He proudly proclaims that 11 members of the James Madison High School junior varsity two years ago were former Raiders.
"Saturday in this town (Vienna) during football season is wild," McWilliams says with a grin. "There's not a blade of grass around that isn't being stomped on."
While he is confident about his team's abilities, McWilliams is also a realist:
"Somebody's going to beat us," he says. "It has to happen. I know if I was coaching against a team with 85 consecutive wins, I'd use it as an incentive to get my team up."