Manassas Park reached the Region B semifinals three years ago, region final two years ago and won the region last year to make its first state appearance since 1986.

Can the Cougars take that next step, into the state championship? Not without patching quite a few holes off the veteran team that posted the first unbeaten regular season in school history and enjoyed a brief fling with the Post's Top 20.

Despite that turnover, Manassas Park is considered the Bull Run District front-runner thanks to the return of senior quarterback Zach Terrell and the long memories of district coaches whose teams were torched, 186-14, by the Cougars last year.

"I don't like the word 'rebuilding' and I don't like the word 'transition' because I think that's basically telling your kids you don't expect to win," said Coach Jeff Lloyd, whose team notched seven shutouts in 2003. "I expect us to win, I don't care who's playing."

With no apparent breakaway running back, Terrell will work swift senior receivers A.C. Fitchett and Joe Greene into the running game. Junior Raphael Rigaud and sophomore Kramer Cadle, both flankers, also could factor prominently in the offense, which Lloyd said might have to carry the defense early.

One encouraging sign is the schedule. The Bull Run opener is not until Oct. 8, giving the Cougars (42-14 the past five years) five games to stabilize.