There is something distinct about the way football practices are run at Stone Bridge. The atmosphere, more so than at any other program in the Loudoun area, is similar to college.

It helps that the Bulldogs have a sheer numbers advantage. For the second consecutive season, Coach Mickey Thompson was forced to make cuts, something no other team in Loudoun or Fauquier has had to do, in order to keep his freshman, junior varsity and varsity rosters at a workable number.

Then there is the way drills are run, with a gusto fueled by a passionate coaching staff that comprises nearly a dozen members (many of them volunteers and former players) and the kind of fervor that success generates.

Stone Bridge, which this season moves from the AA Dulles District to the AAA Liberty, has a 33-5 record the past three years, claiming back-to-back AA Region II Division 4 championships in 2002 and 2003 and consecutive undefeated league titles in 2003 and 2004.

"The confidence level here is extremely high," Thompson said. "I don't think our kids think it's going to take them any time at all to get adjusted to a new league. I'm not saying we don't have many holes to fill. We do. But our kids expect to win, regardless."

Thompson added, "Every kid in this school who can play is out here. There are no kids walking around the hallways that I wish were out for the team that aren't. We're getting everything we can out of this school."

Having so many quality players also gives the Bulldogs the rare advantage of not having to platoon most of their starters. That means practice drills can be run with the first-team offense against the first-team defense.

That matchup incites added competition.

During one preseason team session, held indoors because of the heat, the first-team players pitted against each other were so eager to prove they had the best unit that amid all of the friendly back-and-forth banter, more than a couple of tackles were made with more force than was supposed to be used on a gym floor.

Thompson halted the drills and called the team together, trying hard to suppress his smile.

"We don't want anyone to get hurt out here," he said. "So let's end this. But I have to say, watching that was fun."

The Bulldogs plan to take that same intensity into the Liberty District, where this season they will compete against Jefferson, Langley, Madison, Marshall, McLean, South Lakes and W.T. Woodson, the Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 5 champions, for their shot at a third league title in as many years.

"It doesn't matter who we play, our goals don't change," said senior lineman Ted Zurawski. "As a group we all believe that we can go in there, have a winning season and make it back to the playoffs. We're coming out Game One to prove to everyone that we can compete at the AAA level. We may have to work that much harder to do it, but we're ready for that."

Don't Miss

Jefferson at Stone Bridge

Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m.

The Bulldogs went undefeated in the AA Dulles District a year ago, earning their third straight playoff berth. The Colonials finished one game shy of the AAA National District championship, but did post their best record in school history (8-3) and also advanced to the playoffs. Now both teams have moved to the AAA Liberty District, and a win in this league opener is one that each team covets.

This Season's Schedule

DateOpponentTimeSept. 9at West Springfield7:30Sept. 16at Oakton7:30Sept. 23Loudoun Valley7:30Sept. 30Jefferson7:30Oct. 7at Langley7:30Oct. 14Madison*7:30Oct. 22at McLean1:30Oct. 28at W.T. Woodson7:30Nov. 4Marshall7:30Nov. 11South Lakes7:30*homecoming

Last Year's Results

DateOpponentResultSept. 3at Turner AshbyW, 24-9Sept. 10Thomas JohnsonW, 47-0Sept. 20 O'ConnellW, 49-27Oct. 1Park ViewW, 28-21Oct. 8at HeritageW, 32-3Oct. 15at Loudoun CountyW, 38-14Oct. 22Potomac FallsW, 35-21Oct. 29at Loudoun ValleyW, 28-14Nov. 5DominionW, 25-0Nov. 13at Broad RunW, 23-7Nov. 20Louisa County**W, 42-7Nov. 27Harrisonburg**L, 14-3**AA Region II Division 4 Playoffs

"It doesn't matter who we play, our goals don't change," said Stone Bridge senior lineman Ted Zurawski.