On the first day of football practice three years ago, Woodbridge Coach Keith King pointed at Derrick Holt and asked Andre Bratton how old he thought Holt was. Bratton sized up the 6-foot, 190-pound stranger and guessed senior.
"He's a freshman, just like you," Holt recalls the first-year coach telling Bratton. "You're going to be playing varsity football together."
King was right, but the two running backs who have combined for more than 1,500 rushing yards through six games this season have not played together nearly as much as they would have liked.
Holt made the varsity as a freshman; the slighter Bratton did not. They did play together in 2002, on a 5-5 team, combining for about 500 yards rushing. Then Holt attended Gar-Field as a junior.
Only this season, with the Vikings achieving a 4-2 record heading into their home game tomorrow against Stonewall Jackson (4-2), are Bratton and Holt truly in step. Bratton has rushed for an area-high 982 yards, topping 100 yards each outing, with fullback Holt (538 yards) often leading the way with a block.
Each has scored six touchdowns and each is performing with a sort of better-late-than-never determination that just might lift Woodbridge to its first winning season since 1997. Last week, the Vikings snapped a 12-game series losing streak against Gar-Field.
"We had a dream to do something big, but it got messed up," Holt said, in reference to his 2003 transfer. "But we're trying to make the best of it now."
Considering Bratton's history of ankle, shoulder and toe injuries, there was no guarantee that he and Holt would ever star in the same backfield. But Bratton added about 15 pounds during the offseason and said he is bench-pressing almost 300 pounds -- more than double his maximum last year.
"Instead of him getting hit, he's delivering the blows," King said.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Bratton still boasts outside speed -- four of his six touchdowns have been from 50 yards or more -- but has the durability to run inside. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Holt, in turn, is a predominately inside runner, but with breakaway capability. Four of his six touchdowns have been from 26 yards or more.
"We know each other and we know what each other is going to do," Holt said. "I know everything Andre's going to do, and he knows what I'm going to do. It's good to have that chemistry."
"Usually we talk to each other in the huddle and go to the line and talk to each other a little bit [more]," said Bratton, who said he intends to take recruiting trips to Marshall and Tennessee. "I know what he's going to do before it really happens."
What was less known coming into the season was what to expect from the team's offensive line. There are no senior starters on that unit, so instead of the backs gaining confidence from the linemen, the young linemen are gaining confidence from the veteran backs.
"It's probably made it easy on our linemen being as young as they are," King said, "to say, 'I don't have to pancake people and dominate people. . . . If we just get on our guys and occupy them, these guys are so good they'll just go by them.' It makes young kids usually nervous for a game relax. As good as they are, they'll get their yards."