Ask any AA Northwestern District coach who the preseason football favorite is and the answer will be Loudoun County.
Any coach, that is, except Sonny Pearson, leader of the highly regarded Raiders.
"I'm not as confident as everyone else," said Pearson, who is in his eighth year at Loudoun County. "We've got a lot of key people back, but there are still a lot of things we must improve."
Whatever the state of Pearson's confidence, the Raiders are generally considered the strongest team in their district.
Loudoun County enters the season with what shapes up to be its best team in years, considering that the last few seasons the Raiders have been near the bottom of the standings. After a decent 6-3-1 record a year ago, Loudoun County is making some opposing coaches a bit nervous.
"They (Loudoun County) have got it all," Loudoun Valley Coach Mike Barton said. "They are huge and they've got great speed. They'll be awfully tough to beat."
The backfield is where the Raiders are the most talented as two 1,000-yard rushers swing into their senior years. Tailback Chris Hall gained almost 1,100 yards last year; running back Steve Roberts gained 1,200 in 1983 before sitting out last season with an injury.
Scott Anderson is the starting quarterback after being the reserve last year.
Giving Hall and Roberts the space to run are returning linemen Jim Marshall (6-2, 232) and Jeff Black.
When Anderson is not handing off to his talented runners, he will throw to either flanker Greg Grimes or split end Steve Grassi, an all-conference selection last year.
Handley went 14-0 last year and captured the state championship, but 10th-year Coach Ron Linden admits this is a rebuilding year. Linden lost 23 players to graduation and has only six starters back.
Handley's biggest weakness is defense, where two players return, while on offense, quarterback Brent Kendall and running back John Ivey are back.
Park View (7-3) Coach Ed Scott starts senior Mike Menapace at quarterback, with senior Tim McClain at fullback. McClain also plays defensive end, while Tim Rounsley returns to his linebacker spot.
Loudoun Valley's Barton said his club is very small, with only one player over 200 pounds. Senior quarterback George Brahmhall and junior Shawn Larsen, a fullback, should be the Vikings' brightest stars.
Warren County, 2-8 last fall, should be more competitive, according to its coach, Rick Pennypacker. The Wildcats are led by junior tailback Daryl Whitmore and all-district and region wide receiver Sammy North, who caught 48 passes last year.
The defense is experienced with 273-pounder Tom Day and transfer Tony Davis solidifying the line. Whitmore, Jimmy Mauck and Dave Kitchen return to the secondary.
Osbourn is young and inexperienced. Tom Mikus has mostly juniors and sophomores; most of the offensive production may come from senior fullback Robert Clark.
In the Class A Bull Run District, Strasburg, Clarke County and Page County are all considered title contenders.
Quarterback Jay Page and tailback George Mason power an experienced Clarke County offensive unit.
George Mason Coach Steve Kennedy is looking for the quick score with his Houston veer offense and four speedsters who can put points on the board quickly. Junior quarterback Joe Marshall will run the show. Tight end Al Singleton, a key in the veer offense, should receive most of the option passes.
Manassas Park is a more experienced team than the one that won only two games last year. Jay Burke, James Marquess, Jerry Phipps and Sam Dillman return to the offensive line.
Don Lambert's Brentsville Tigers should get a lot of production from quarterback Matt Przybocki and running back Mike Fredink.
Jeff Hammond will quarterback Broad Run and Derek Hamilton and John Berelin are the running backs.