Atholton Raiders

Last year: 3-7 overall, 3-6 league.

Coach: Chuck Fales, fourth season (6-24).

Last playoff appearance: 1985, lost in Class B quarterfinals.

Keep an eye on: QB Jimmy McQuilkin. A few days before Atholton's first scrimmage, the senior held a party for the players at his home and was amazed by the turnout.

"Pretty much the whole team was there, maybe about 35 players," he said. "And that's big because last year when we got together, maybe half our team showed up."

The Raiders spent the evening munching on subs and watching "Remember the Titans," a film about how Alexandria's T.C. Williams football team overcame adversity to win the Virginia title in 1971.

"I knew right then we were really becoming a team because we could have hung out together all night," McQuilkin said. "There was just good chemistry there."

McQuilkin acknowledged it is unlikely the Raiders will experience a Hollywood ending this season but said he feels they could be the county's most improved team. Atholton won just one game on the field last year -- the other two victories came after forfeits by opponents -- largely because injuries dwindled the team to 20 players by the end of the season and forced it to halt physical contact drills because of the risk of injury.

"Instead of having linemen out there during practice, we ran around barrels. And by the end of the season, a lot of us had pretty much given up because we knew we weren't going to win," McQuilkin said. "But now, we're practicing like everyone else and believe we can be a good team."

McQuilkin, recovering from a partially torn right anterior cruciate ligament that sidelined him at midseason last year, leads a revitalized attack that features running backs Matt Winger and Patrick Hayden as well as senior tight end Brandon Boy. The offensive line is bolstered by the return of junior Travis Fales, senior Collin Wright and senior Dan McCormick.

Defensively, senior linebacker Brandon Gardenhour leads a unit that needs to make major strides after allowing opponents an average of 37 points per game last year.

"This team had to go through a lot last year because we just did not have the numbers to compete against the rest of the county," Coach Chuck Fales said. "But this year, we had a lot of guys come back, so that shows how much they want to turn this thing around."

Quarterback Jimmy McQuilkin said Atholton has "good chemistry."