Manassas Park seniors Bucky Griffith and Raphael Rigaud have heard the rumblings: No Zach Terrell, no playing into December for the Cougars.
Griffith and company are not only trying to defend their Virginia A Division 2 state title -- the school's first in its 29-year history -- they're trying to defend their honor. Terrell, who last year set a Virginia A record for yards in a season, has headed off to play at Liberty University, and some think the Cougars' championship hopes left with him.
Never mind that there is plenty of talent back at Manassas Park, which opens its season at Virginia AA school Potomac Falls tomorrow night at 7:30. But that is a fact that does not necessarily register with observers dazzled by quarterback Terrell's fantasy league-like 4,523-yard season.
"We're more driven this year," said Rigaud, a second-team all-district defensive back who will play a lot more receiver this fall. "We'd like to prove that Zach wasn't the whole team and [that] we can still be very competitive without him."
"I'd rather win it this year," said Griffith, a first-team all-district guard and linebacker. "That's why I don't say anything when people do say [it was because of] Zach. We have this year. We can do it again this year. If we do it again this year, then that will shut everybody up."
Not necessarily, because there is another Terrell on the premises. Zach's cousin Jay, a senior, has transferred in from Brentsville and will take over the quarterback spot and also line up some at running back and in the slot in the team's spread attack.
This marks the second time in three years that a Terrell cousin has transferred in to lift the Cougars. The other time it was running back Michael Roberts, who rushed for 1,431 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2003.
"Get in shape, because you're going to get the ball a lot," is the advice Jay said that Zach gave him. Coach Jeff Lloyd believes the players are similar in regard to their lateral movement but that the elder Terrell has superior north-south speed.
Seven starters return on each side of the ball, including the entire offensive line, and 6-foot, 190-pound junior running back Anthony Williams might be poised for a breakout year. The current receivers were not the go-to guys last season, and the secondary is not quite as strong. But the will to win is.
"We talk a lot about respect is a year to year thing and also talk about the recent history of our program and that they have a responsibility to that," said Lloyd, whose previous seven teams went 59-21. "They're not just playing for themselves or their current teammates. They're also playing for other kids who put this program on the map.
"That's the thing we work on most is frame of mind. When we get out on the field, it doesn't matter that Zach Terrell isn't here any more or that A.C. [Fitchett] isn't here any more. You're the kid who's playing now and you have to perform to the best of your ability."
Manassas Park has won 22 straight home games and 24 straight regular season games.
Brentsville lost its last eight games of 2004 and beat only one varsity team last season. The player who scored all four touchdowns in that varsity win over Heritage was Terrell, who is no longer there.
The first victory was over Battlefield's junior varsity, the Tigers' 13th consecutive season-opening triumph.
But five losses came by a total of 30 points, and several key seniors return, among them linemen Matt Tudor and Adam Hall, receiver-linebacker Zach Basham, quarterback-defensive back Mike Barber, and running back-defensive back Josh Frazier. Other proven Tigers include junior running back-defensive back Joe Walton and junior fullback-linebacker Daniel Eisenhard.
The team did not throw a touchdown pass until the final game of the season, and this year's squad also will emphasize the running game.
"We were just an eyelash away" from a 6-4 or 7-3 season, Coach Dean Reedy said.
With new players coming in and going out of the military base school every year, continuity at the quarterback position is rare, but that's what Quantico has with three-year starter Joe Fischer, a senior. And senior running back Terry Alexander, who got off to a promising start last season before breaking his ankle, has returned in fine form, rushing for 166 yards on only nine carries in a season-opening 41-0 win over Mount Zion.
Two senior basketball players -- Brandon Futrell and Jerrett Turner -- should help at a number of positions. Seniors Erick Scott, Mike Lamb and sophomore Tre Hammond are among other key players, but on a 27-man roster with several eighth-graders, all bodies are important. In all, five starters return on each side of the ball.
Martin Noziglia, a senior from Argentina, has been a pleasant surprise on both lines.
The Warriors play an independent schedule but vie for a berth in the state independent schools playoffs.
"Because these kids come from [military] backgrounds, they're just hard-working, solid work ethic, steady kids," eighth-year coach Ken Woodie said. "We just don't know who's going to be here each year."