There are big changes in the works at Potomac Falls, where Coach Casey Childs has switched from an I-formation to a wishbone to better fit his current personnel. The idea is to get more runners in the backfield to take some of the focus -- and the pressure -- off senior Darren Bailey.
Bailey (5-9, 185) rushed for 1,077 yards and five touchdowns in nine games last season and set a single-game school rushing record of 257 yards.
"We think the wishbone will better suit our kids, not only this year, but for years to come," said Childs, whose team was 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the Dulles District a year ago. "What it does is put more athletes in the backfield, and we need that. We can't let teams just key on Darren."
The battle for quarterback features sophomore Jonathan Gunning (5-8, 160), the starter on the freshman team last fall, and senior Mario Lanza (5-9, 175), last season's junior varsity thrower.
"Both of those kids are athletic and have a similar style," Childs said. "The concern is that neither of them have any experience on the varsity level. They're going to have to learn quickly."
The Panthers' offensive line will average about 240 pounds, which is much improved from a year ago.
Five key defenders from last season are back, led by senior linebacker Chris Jaeger (6-1, 220). Jaeger had a team-high 87 tackles and three sacks last season, and this year will get help in the middle from Bailey and junior Jay Branham (6-0, 190), a transfer from Park View.
Anchoring the defensive line are senior end Adrian Tracy (6-3, 215) and junior tackle Steven Keesler (5-10, 295).
Senior Brandon Jackson (6-2, 175) will lead the Panthers secondary with help from junior Cameron Minor (5-10, 165), who has not played since his freshman year but is the second-fastest player on the team. Minor and Bailey have been clocked at under 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
The Panthers have the skill players to match up with any team in the district. At issue is how quickly they will adapt to the wishbone attack and whether their lines have improved enough to increase that win total again this season.
"Since I've been here, as either an assistant coach or head coach, this is the best off-season workouts we've had," Childs said. "The kids really dedicated themselves to the weight room. Now we just have to wait and see how much that extra work pays off."
-- ANGELA WATTS