It did not take long for first-year W.T. Woodson coach Gerry Pannoni to form an opinion about fullback Matt Nickerson.
"When I got the job last April, he was still playing lacrosse," said Pannoni, who was the coach at Lee before this season. "But when the season ended, he was in the weight room every day, busting his butt. I watched his work ethic, and I knew he'd be a good player."
Nickerson's offseason efforts have drawn praise from his teammates as well. This summer, in addition to lifting and conditioning with the Cavaliers, Nickerson ran in the morning, worked out with a personal trainer and attended several camps. He toned his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame and worked tirelessly on his speed and quickness. He improved his running form and explosiveness and dropped his 40-yard dash time nearly three-tenths of a second to 4.31.
"Matt's always worked hard and tried to improve his play," senior two-way starting lineman Mike Tunick said. "He's always had a great attitude about playing football."
It is no surprise Pannoni took notice of Nickerson's work habits. W.T. Woodson players say their new coach's practices are intense, grueling and almost always run at "game speed." Pannoni has had no reason to revise his first impression of Nickerson.
"We work the kids pretty hard," Pannoni said. "There are points in practice where most kids would have about had it. But [Nickerson] keeps going."
Last Friday, in the Cavaliers' 62-0 season-opening victory over Stuart, Nickerson's work in the offseason and practice translated into tangible results. He rushed for 126 yards and six touchdowns on just 12 carries. The six scores, all of which came in the first half, are believed to be a school record.
"The offensive line was doing a heck of a job blocking," Nickerson said. "I kind of had the easy job."
W.T. Woodson had won just one playoff game before the 2002 season, but it reached the Virginia AAA Division 5 final that year and made the playoffs again last season. Now a team loaded with seniors wants to build upon that foundation.
"We've had a great team the last two seasons," senior quarterback Chris Collins said. "But as seniors, we have to look at it as, 'This is our year.' "
The Cavaliers face a significant early-season test tonight when they travel to Edison (1-0) for a nondistrict game. The Eagles defeated Chantilly, 20-16, in their opener.
"It's going to be a matter of us being able to control their athletes," Pannoni said.
Directions: From the Beltway, get off at the Van Dorn Street exit (Exit 173, old exit 3). Go south on Van Dorn Street to Franconia Road and turn left. The school is on the right.