Senior running back Mike King and his Gar-Field teammates reported to a University of Virginia seven-on-seven passing tournament this summer and discovered that one of their opponents -- out of dozens of schools on hand -- was none other than Varina, the team the Indians would face in their regular season opener.
Gar-Field lost by one score but had first down at the Blue Devils' 5-yard line when time ran out.
"It was kind of crazy that we had to play Varina," King said. "After the game we were like, 'we'll see you all September 2.' It was real fun."
What would be even more enjoyable is upsetting Varina in the season opener at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Gar-Field. The Blue Devils have reached the Central Region playoffs for 10 straight years and went unbeaten last regular season before losing in the region semifinals.
Gar-Field is coming off a 2-8 season in which it did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2000. Some fans might recall that Varina is the team that Hylton beat in the Division 6 state championships in 1998 and '99.
The team the Indians saw this summer might not have fully prepared them for the team they will encounter tomorrow.
"You can't put a lot of stock in a seven-on-seven game," said Gar-Field Coach Joe Mangano, whose team is coming off a sturdy scrimmage performance against defending Division 6 state runner-up Robinson. "There are no shoulder pads or helmets or linemen, and you can't hit. But it enabled us to see how truly talented they were up close."
Varina lost 17 starters from last year's team, but senior Brandon Minor is back. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound tailback gained 2,091 yards and scored 32 touchdowns in 2004, and last month he listed Miami, Michigan, Florida, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, LSU and Ohio State as his possible college choices.
The other returning Varina starters are quarterback Davon Morgan, tackle Johnathan Harris, defensive back Marvin White and linebacker Jamar Jackson.
In addition to starting the season against a state-caliber opponent, Gar-Field will be the only area Virginia AAA team playing its first game this weekend. That means the Indians are not just facing Varina, they are opening in front of fans and coaches from across the area who will be in attendance. And the Indians will sport new uniforms that even the players have not yet seen.
Mangano likes opening early because it gives his team a midseason bye week, which happens to fall before the Cardinal District opener against Hylton, a team that has beaten Gar-Field in the last 15 meetings.
"It's a real neat situation," King said. "I think it comes down to we want to show everybody that Gar-Field's back. We're not some team you're going to blow through."