None of the eight returning starters on offense is more important than senior workhorse C.J. Reaves (5-7, 165). Reaves averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 2003 and has added about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame. The Titans leaned heavily on Reaves throughout their 2-8 inaugural season, and he will carry the load again this fall.
That doesn't mean the talented senior back won't have help. Junior quarterback Chris Whipple (6-1, 175) also returns and is being pushed by junior Cameron Hadnot (5-11, 160), a transfer from California. Hadnot's speed and athleticism could be showcased not only at quarterback but also at running back and wide receiver.
"Cameron has C.J. almost step for step in speed," Coach Mike Dougherty said. "So he's more of a run threat back there behind center than Whipple is, but Whipple has the experience. But with the two styles, there may come a time when we're flip-flopping between the two of them."
The offensive line, though, is a concern. Already this preseason, projected starters James Dorn (ankle) and Minh Nguyen (finger) have been lost for at least six weeks. Their injuries put added pressure on the rest of the linemen, who will be led by sophomore Chatman Young (6-3, 250).
"He's our biggest guy, but we have four or five not too far behind," Dougherty said. "But that still leaves us fairly undersized up front. The reality is we can't afford to lose anyone else or we'll be left playing 150-pound kids again this year, and that's not what we want to do."
The biggest change at Dominion this season is that the second-year Titans are developing depth. Unlike last season there are competitions brewing this preseason at nearly every position, something Dougherty said he couldn't be more pleased to see.
"We have about eight guys fighting for four defensive back spots, and only good things can come from that," he said. "Last year we didn't have enough depth to push each other in practice the way we're doing now."
Leading tackler Tony Holdaway (5-10, 185) returns at linebacker, where last season he notched 70 tackles, 6 sacks and 2 interceptions. Also back is utility player Jason Addie (5-7, 150). Dougherty said Addie can play several positions despite his size.
The second-year Titans certainly don't lack enthusiasm. The entire coaching staff dyed their hair a brilliant blond before preseason practices began as a show of unity, and that attitude is carried down throughout the team. The Titans aren't headed into this season seeking their first Dulles District victory -- but their first several wins.
"We're going to compete to win this season," Dougherty said. "It's that simple."
-- ANGELA WATTS