For most football teams, a 7-4 season is successful. But for T.C. Williams, the winningest area team of the 1980s, last year's finish was an excuse to reevaluate its dedication.
When the second-ranked Titans met in Madison, Va., this fall for their annual week-long football camp, they decided it was time to return to the tradition of winning T.C. Williams style.
That tradition includes Virginia AAA state championships in 1984 and '87, state runner-up in '85, six Northern District championships, and three Northern Region titles since 1982.
"We have the reputation of a 10-0 season," said senior nose guard Eric McKenney. "A 7-2, 7-3 record is no good."
Guided by nine-year coach Glenn Furman, the Titans have bullishly supported their preseason commitment to bring back a state championship.
"My freshman year," said McKenney, "I thought we'd go to the states every year. But my 10th-grade year we didn't go and my 11th-grade year we didn't go. So this year we have to go."
And with that almost desperate attitude, and a nationally recognized defense, Alexandria's only public high school has put together a 7-0 record and is ranked 20th in the nation by USA Today.
They are ranked No. 1 in the state and remain the Northern Region's only undefeated team. With perhaps the toughest schedule in the region, they have knocked off perennial powerhouses West Potomac and Annandale and handed Centreville its first loss. They face 6-1 Hayfield this weekend.
"Most of the teams that aren't strong in the region don't want to play us," said Furman.
Furman's philosophy is that a successful team starts with defense, and he has an 85-17-2 record since 1982 to prove that works. His record was 59-1 at Hammond Junior High, one of the two T.C. Williams's feeder schools.
This year's defense has yielded only 31 points in seven games this season, with four shutouts. One of those came against West Potomac, state champion last year. In fact, West Potomac actually has the best record in the region at 48-10 since its creation in 1985. But T.C. Williams has won five of seven against West Potomac.
"They have a great tradition and marvelous coaching," said West Potomac Coach Dan Meier of the Titans. "You know every time you play them it's going to be a physical ballgame."
McKenney and defensive end Ricky Ross recorded some bone-rattling tackles against Annandale in the season's third week to stop one of the area's most prolific offenses. Ross had his best game against the Atoms with six sacks, a fumble recovery, several quarterback hurries and three batted balls.
The defense also held James Milliner, who leads the area with more than 1,100 yards rushing, to 93 yards, 60 yards on one carry.
"For him to run the ball he had to come through the line of scrimmage like everybody else," said Ross. "We just played as hard as we always do."
Ross also plays some fullback in the veer offense. Furman said he likes to control the ball, but later characterized the attack as a big-play offense. "We don't do trick plays and things that put us in the hole," he said. "We're satisfied with one, two, three plays for short yardage, always knowing that we'll get the big play."
The veer is similar to the wishbone, but uses two backs instead of three. And that's probably all Furman needs with the speed of his starting backfield.
Quarterback Ezra Whorley and running backs Ratcliff Thomas and Rashawn Jackson, all juniors, run about 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Running behind an offensive line that averages 245 pounds, the Titans average more than 24 points a game.
Against Annandale, Jackson had an 87-yard scoring run and Thomas had a 93-yard touchdown. Last week against Robinson, Whorley had touchdowns of 45 and 47 yards. "On any one given play any one of those kids can score," said Furman.