On a shelf in Annandale Coach Dick Adams's office is pile of old game tapes. Most prominently displayed is a stack of six, held together with a rubber band, sitting at the edge of the shelf. Alongside four tapes from this year's games are two labeled, "11/26/94, Annandale vs. Chantilly, Northern Region Championship" and "11/19/93, Annandale vs. Herndon, Regional Semifinals."
Adams coached Annandale to state titles in 1993 and 1994, and he holds weekly screenings in the locker room of those and other game tapes, while passing around subs for the players to eat.
The tapes, if not the subs, leave senior running back/defensive back Keith Watson hungry for more.
"You watch it and you want to be there," he said. "You want to have the same feeling they felt. To have a great season, win the state championship game. It's motivation."
Watson, a four-year varsity player, is finally getting that chance. In his three previous seasons, Annandale finished 5-5, 6-4 and 6-4, all solid finishes, but not enough to reach the playoffs. This year, the Atoms swept through the Patriot District with a 7-0 record -- they are 7-3 overall -- and advanced to their first postseason since Annandale's undefeated state championship team of 1994.
Watson is part of a trio of players who have helped rush the Atoms back to prominence. The so-called "three-headed monster" of Watson, junior quarterback Nate Cartagena and sophomore running back John Logan has gained more than 2,600 yards on the ground this season, even though the three average just 5 feet 8.
Watson has garnered 574 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. For his efforts, Cartagena (1,110 yards rushing) won Patriot District offensive player of the year honors; he is one of nine Atoms to make first team all-district.
"When we won the district championship, it seemed like we had some of that old feeling back, even though it hadn't happened in a long time," Watson said. "It was good for the players, the school, the community -- everybody involved with the program."
Although Annandale's place in the postseason has been questioned, especially since the team did not win a game outside its district, the Atoms did show they can compete with the best in the area. Last week, Annandale fell, 21-14, to Oakton, the region's No. 1 seed. The Atoms will have another chance in the region semifinal tomorrow night when they travel to play the Cougars at 7:30.
"We went into [last week] with the mind-set that we're going to send a message back to the Concorde District that we're a good team," Watson said. "We're not just here on vacation. We're not here to be overlooked. We're here to make a point and make a mark that we're a good football team and we can beat any team out there."