Senior Stephen Sheehan was an integral part of the most accurate passing attack in the Dulles District a year ago, catching 29 throws from his older brother John and helping lead Loudoun Valley (8-3, 6-1) to its first playoff appearance since 1997. This fall, however, Stephen Sheehan is expected to be on the front end of the Vikings' aerial show.
Junior Sam Clay (6-1, 178) and sophomore Clyde Kessler (5-9, 155) have been competing with him for the starting nod, but Sheehan's game experience is likely to win him the job as quarterback.
"Stephen brings great leadership out there," Coach Bruce Sheppard said. "And as young and inexperienced as we are, we're going to need that. We've got to grow up fast if we're going to compete."
With Sheehan's move, only three offensive starters return to their same position. Two of them are standout running backs Bret Mottice (6-0, 184) and Tom Schonder (5-11, 172). Mottice, a powerful fullback, rushed for 717 yards and six touchdowns last season on 125 carries. Schonder, a quick and agile halfback, compiled 398 yards and four scores on 94 attempts.
Junior center Sean Milam (5-11, 225) is the team's lone returning starter on the offensive line.
The Vikings look to be particularly tough up the middle, where two all-Dulles District defensive tackles -- seniors Ben Myers (6-1, 238) and Jimmy Phillips (5-11, 185) -- return this season. Milam is also back at defensive end to help secure the line.
But that's where the experience ends. The Vikings' only other returning starters on defense are junior linebacker Steven Harvey (6-0, 180) and senior cornerback Kyle Lawson (6-1, 178). Sheehan, a starter in the secondary last year, will be used primarily on offense this season.
"We'll play him on defense when we have to have him, but I hope that's not a regular thing," Sheppard said. "And because our secondary is stronger overall this year, I think we'll be okay."
And when the Vikings' defense does force the opponents to give up the ball, Loudoun Valley will look to junior Brock Bell (5-5, 152), one of the league's most dangerous kick returners.
The Vikings won just three games in 2002 but were the district's biggest surprise a year ago. Although they lack experience at many positions, Sheppard hopes his team's success last season will prove contagious.
"We're going to try and pick up where we left off," Sheppard said. "But we understand, too, that this team has to find its own identity."
-- ANGELA WATTS