Tell us, coach, in your 13 games so far how many times have your guys fumbled?
"Once," the coach said.
And in those games how many interceptions has your quarterback thrown?
"Seven. We've intercepted 25."
And in three state playoff games so far, how many penalties has your team committed?
"In three games, four penalties."
Four? Four penalties in three games?
"One was for delay of game when we broke a chin strap. I thought it should have been an equipment timeout."
Annandale High School's football team does a lot of things right. It has won its 13 games this season. In three playoff games against strong teams, Annandale has won successive shutouts of 21-0, 31-0 and 17-0. When the coach, Bob Hardage, speaks of one fumble and seven interceptions in 13 games and four penalties (four! in three playoff games!), he is coolly reciting facts.
Passion takes over when you ask him if this is the best Annandale team ever.
Understand one thing. Anandale is Notre Jr. This is Hardage's 13th season; his teams have won five Northern Region championships and three state championships, with a fourth available Saturday against Highland Springs at W.T. Woodson High School.In 13 seasons under Hardage, Annandale has a 120-23-2 record.
Choosing the best Annandale team ever, then, would seem difficult.
Not for Hardage, who ought to know better than anyone. "I haven't said this before, but regardless of what happens Saturday, this year's team is the best," the coach said yesterday.
"The balance is the reason. We have very good defense, good offense, a good kicking game, and the offense is balanced passing and running. And we don't make mistakes. The Washington Post did a rating once of the best teams ever in the metropolitan area and put the '71 T.C. Williams team No. 1.
"Well, we lost to that T.C. Williams team. But our team this year against that one would be a helluva game. And I think this team is better because T.C. Williams made a lot of turnovers."
Sustained success invites gossip.Annandale, you hear, has this marvelous "feeder" system of junior high schools. The players it does not get there, well, they transfer into the district with military and government families so they can get a football education. When Annandale went 7-2-1 and 7-3 the two years before this, Bob Hardage was about to join Dan Devine hanging from a tree. You hear stuff.
So you go to Annandale to see this high-powered football factory. Notre Dame in diapers. Something foolish like that. And that's not what you see at all.
Hardage admits the people of Annandale are spoiled. "But no, no, I don't think so," he said when asked if there is inordinate pressure on him. "The people are interested, though. We feed the team a steak breakfast on Saturday mornings and a man who's a government worker is there washing dishes. His last son graduated in 1971. Another man drives his pickup truck full of our equipment. His son graduated in 1960. There are just a lot of very interested people who would do anything to help us."
Of his 22 starters, Hardage said four have moved into the Annandale district in the last two years. Nothing unusual in four new kids in any school playing football.
As for a "feeder" system, conversations with Annandale's quarterback and leading pass receiver show how wonderfully haphazard high school football can be.
The quarterback, Mark Cox, was a freshman in street clothes, watching a practice, when Hardage asked him to come out for football. That was last summer, and by season's end Cox was the starting quarterback. This year, as a sophomore, he has completed almost 60 percent of his passes for more than 1,000 yards.
"I was just standing there and Coach Hardage came over and asked if I played football," Cox said yesterday. "I said yes. And he asked if I played quarterback. I said yes. And he asked if I'd like to come out. I said yes."
"He looked like a quarterback," said a smiling Hardage, once a quarterback himself at Mount Vernon High and William and Mary University.
The leading pass receiver at Annandale is Phil Denfeld, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound senior who has caught 37 passes, none for touchdowns.
He grew up hating Annandale High. It was his dream to go to W.T. Woodson. Then the school districts changed boundary lines and Denfeld was forced to go Annandale.
His freshman year he didn't play football. He had tried the game when he was 7 and 8 years old. "We never won a game, so I quit that," he said. "I started playing soccer."
A friend talked him into trying football in the 10th grade. Now he loves both the game and Annandale High. He is an honor roll student (all As, save for a B in analytical geometry) and a captain of the team.
"Football teaches you to be a better leader," Denfeld said. "As captains, we remind everybody what we're here for. To have fun, sure, but we're here for. To have fun, sure, but we're also playing for the shcool, our classmates, the community, our parents and friends. And if that doesn't make you want to win, you shouldn't be there."
Hardage preaches exactly that. He believes hard work produces winners. "The faint-hearted will leave," he said. "Everything our players do, they do at maximum effort. If they don't, they're cheating themselves and their teammates. The most important thing kids learn in football is to respect themselves. That, and they learn what it takes to be successful."
So what is an Annandale practice like?
The coach smiled nicely.
"Tough," he said.