Winless seasons are not often looked back upon. But in Fairfax football coach Francis Dall's case, it is one year he remembers vividly.
Though the Rebels suffered through 10 straight losses in 1985, they were a perserverant group, losing only two games by more than two touchdowns. That season laid the foundation for this year's success. A year later an 8-2 Fairfax club came within one win of the playoffs, and this year the Rebels are making their first post-season football appearance in the 52-year history of the school. Tomorrow night the Rebels will play Yorktown in the Northern Region, Division 5 semifinals.
The 7-3 Rebels are a result of three years of hard work and experience. Twenty players on this year's squad have played three years on the varsity. Though this has been the most satisfying season, Dall knows the winless season made it all possible.
"In a way, it (the 0-10 season) was the most rewarding season of my life," said Dall, who was an all-Potomac District performer in football, basketball and baseball at Jefferson High School in the early 1970's. "I felt bad for the kids because most should have been playing at the junior varsity level, but we just didn't have many seniors that year." The experience gained by the young varsity starters that year has paid off.
In two years that have followed, Fairfax was in position to win the Potomac District title, though it finished second both times. A ball-control attack and a solid defense have been the trademarks to their success, which Dall says is the key to winning high school football.
"If you look at the teams that are competing for the regional title every year, they run the ball well, Dall said. "It's also important to have balance. But if you rely on passing, many factors, especially the weather can hurt you."
Ironically, three underclassmen have the task of running the football. Juniors Frankie Smith (541 yards) and Randy Belknap (465) and sophomore Bryant McMillian (561) run behind a senior-oriented line which includes center Rob McGough (6-foot, 173 pounds) and guard Bill Webber (6-4, 200). Though both McGough and Webber are prototype lineman, the Rebels also have a number of scrappers, like starting tackle Tim Smith (5-foot-5, 145).
Defensively, the Rebels are keyed by a pair of seniors, defensive end Johnny Curtis (6-2, 190) and second team all-region defensive tackle Emilio Martinez (5-10, 213). Behind their leadership, the defense has posted two shutouts and allowed an average of 10 points a contest.
Early in the season the defense had to keep games close while junior quarterback David Bedwell gained on-the-job training in the absence of injured senior Hayden Codding. Codding returned, but suffered a season-ending collarbone injury in a win over Stuart. But after scoring just 32 points in the first three games, Fairfax has scored 172 points and won six of seven games.
But back in 1985, Dall knew a tough road was in store with few seniors on the roster, so he elected to go with youth. Twenty sophomores started for the Rebels, and the results were predictable.
"We (the sophomores) were forced into starting roles," center McGough says of the 1985 season. "By the end of the season we were just looking to the future. But the next year a big factor was that we knew we belonged out there."
Despite an 8-2 record, the 1986 season was a frustrating one for the Rebels. With the Virginia High School League breaking the high enrollment-low enrollment classifications in half on a state-wide basis (now it is done within each region), Fairfax was left out in the cold as the lowest enrollment school in the higher enrollment playoffs. The Rebels' mark would have made them the top seed in the low enrollment playoffs last year, but instead they had to watch Edison (which had a 5-4-1 regular season mark) go on to win the state championship in the low enrollment division.
But Dall feels his 7-3 team this year is better than the 1986 club because of the added confidence, and this year's playoffs are more credible.
"Now the kids expect to win because of the program that's been built," Dall said. "And last year I felt the playoffs were second rate with some of the schools that got in (Division 2). "This year you have to be damn good to win the region with teams like Marshall and Yorktown there."