Heritage struggled offensively for most of last season, averaging less than a touchdown a game and getting shut out five times. But the Pride enters its third season of play bigger, faster and deeper than in the past.
That is evidenced, in part, by three players battling for the starting quarterback nod, including returning starters Brian Bell (eight games) and Dale Taylor (two games). Bell (5-11, 185) clearly has the most experience, but Taylor (6-2, 175) offers more of a combined run-pass threat. Also in the mix is junior Bryan Brosnan, a heady player who has caught Coach Wes Driskill's attention.
"All three of them bring something different to the table," Driskill said. "One way or another we're going to end up with a good quarterback. I'm just not sure yet which one it's going to be."
Up front will be an experienced line that returns starters Matt Buttery (6-4, 280), Justin Johnson (6-3, 215), Stephen Laporta (5-10, 180) and Daniel Merryweather (6-0, 275).
Heritage also returns a host of skill players, including running backs Chris Hunter (6-2, 200), Matt Lucas (5-9, 195) and Antoine Stinger (5-9, 170), and wide receivers Pierce Bullock (6-2, 170) and Quinn Tibbs (6-5, 170).
"We need to both run and pass the ball well, and I think we've made the improvements to be able to do that," Driskill said.
Like the offense, the defense finds an advantage in the team's having been so young a year ago: Nine of the 11 defensive starters return. Buttery, Martin and Merryweather are expected to play both ways for Heritage and will be joined on the defensive line by newcomer Cyprian Yankey (5-11, 270).
The team's linebacker duties will be divided among Hunter, Chris Voorhis (5-8, 180) and three-year starters Justin Johnson and Jonte Johnson (6-1, 200). Expected to lead the secondary are Taylor, junior Jason Cadwell (5-10, 165), senior Brett Grist (5-11, 175) and junior Chris Smith (5-7, 155).
Smith, who has not played since his freshman year, will also return kicks.
"He's got good wheels, good moves," Driskill said. "His quickness will make him a deep threat on kickoff and punt returns."
The Pride recorded their first Dulles District win in school history in their final outing a year ago, a 14-7 victory over Dominion that capped a 2-8 season. Now Heritage, with its first full senior class, has the talent and the experience to seek more.
"Finally it doesn't feel like we're a new school anymore," Driskill said. "We've paid our dues the last two years and now we know we can realistically be in the district mix."
-- ANGELA WATTS