Playing tomorrow in the Virginia High School Coaches Association senior all-star football game, Manassas Park graduates Zach Terrell and A.C. Fitchett would be hard-pressed to say which is the greater opportunity -- facing Virginia AAA competition for the first and only time in their careers, or being teammates for one last game.
Terrell, a quarterback and defensive back, and Fitchett, a wide receiver and defensive back, sparked the Cougars to the Virginia A Division 2 title last fall, and they will suit up for the East team in the 7:30 p.m. game at Darling Stadium in Hampton. Manassas Park Coach Jeff Lloyd is on the East coaching staff.
For the past three seasons, Terrell and Fitchett played on teams that went 36-3, with three Region B playoff appearances and two state berths. Last season's team went 14-0. But in an area with mostly AAA schools -- including Osbourn Park, which sits less than a mile down Euclid Avenue -- the Manassas Park players sometimes feel as if their accomplishments do not register with area football followers.
So playing in an all-star game with and against AAA athletes is not an opportunity they take lightly.
"It's a big deal to get a chance to show off our talent with everyone else," said Terrell, an All-Met who last season set a Virginia A record for offensive yards in a season with 4,523. "There's no single-A, double-A, triple-A. We're all together now. . . . [My goal] is just to go out there and do what I do and just show everybody that I can play with the triple-A kids and I wasn't running around like that just because it was single-A kids."
"I'm excited . . . because people say the only reason we won the state championship is because we didn't play against any triple-A teams," said Fitchett, who caught 37 passes for 1,134 yards and 14 touchdowns. "It's basically time for us to prove ourselves.
"I'm [even] more excited about the fact that it will be my last time to play with Zach. So I have to make the best out of that."
The accomplishments of the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Terrell, headed to Liberty University, and the 6-3, 185-pound Fitchett, bound for Norfolk State, have not been overlooked, of course. After all, they are the first Manassas Park football players to be selected for the all-star game in the more than a dozen years Lloyd has worked at the school, and Terrell was named the Virginia A player of the year by the Associated Press. He also was the VHSCA co-offensive player of the year after he rushed for 2,044 yards and 28 touchdowns and threw for 2,479 yards and 26 scores.
"I think the thing with those two, and our whole team, is we don't look at what classification the [opponent] is," said Lloyd, whose Cougars routinely have beaten AA foes. "Our kids expect to compete and to win, especially those two kids.
"[This game] is kind of closure from last year. Everything's been great -- all the celebrations and rings -- but we're getting close to having to start over again and be zero and zero. This is one more [honor] on top of everything that happened last year. And one last chance for me to coach those kids."
After tomorrow, the next time Terrell and Fitchett are involved in the same football game, it will be in opposing uniforms Nov. 19, when Liberty travels to Norfolk State in its regular season finale. That might evoke an odd sensation in each.
"We grew up together, and everybody is used to seeing that wherever he is, I am, and wherever I am, he is," Terrell said. "[Tomorrow's] the last time people will see that, because I'm going one way and he's going another."