Monday marked the first day of official high school football practices in Virginia, jumpstarting another season of parity, high-level play and plenty of questions. Here are the 10 burning questions as teams open camp this week:
Can Centreville repeat?
With 16 starters returning on both sides of the ball, the Wildcats are primed to pick up right where they left off the 2013 season, which ended with them hoisting the Virginia 6A championship trophy. Led by All-Met running back and South Carolina recruit A.J. Turner, five Wildcats committed to Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision schools in July. This talent, along with Joe Ferrick’s ability to fill the void left by graduated quarterback Scott Walter, will be critical in Centreville travailing a tough schedule that begins Sept. 5 against Washington Catholic Athletic Conference power Gonzaga, includes the always-challengings Conference 5 (formerly Concorde District) slate and could end once again in Charlottesville at the state title game.
Can Stone Bridge bounce back?
For the first time since 2001, the Bulldogs lost more than two games and failed to win at least 10 games. Stone Bridge’s rare 9-3 mark came despite boasting playmakers in running back Sterling Dailey and an offensive line that averaged nearly 300 pounds in girth. After giving up more than 20 points in five contests last year, Stone Bridge will look to clamp down defensively behind a unit that includes linebacker Tanner Karafa (Boston College commit) and lineman Aaron Crawford (North Carolina).
Who will step up at quarterback?
In some ways, the 2013 campaign was the year of the quarterback in Northern Virginia. From All-Mets Trace McSorley (Briar Woods) and Caleb Henderson (Lake Braddock) to dual-threat playmakers Travon McMillan (Hylton) and Greg Stroman (Stonewall Jackson), many teams rode the arms of their leaders under center to success on Friday nights. With this quartet, along with several other key quarterbacks now graduated, many coaches will spend the preseason preparing their offense to churn under a new signal caller.
Who is the new face for Briar Woods?
After being handed the keys to the offense as a freshman, Trace McSorley valiantly led the Falcons to three straight state titles and a 55-5 record as a four-year starter. With McSorley now at Penn State, the offensive onus will likely fall on those catching the ball rather than throwing it. The Falcons boast three strong targets in speedy senior wide receiver Brandon Polk and tight ends Mark Birmingham and Tristan Carter.
How does Broad Run stack up?
Broad Run’s first win against crosstown rival Stone Bridge came at the most opportune times last fall when the Spartans knocked off the Bulldogs in the 5A North quarterfinals. The victory not only held value at the local level but Broad Run also took its first big step since moving up to 5A after winning consecutive AA Division 4 titles in 2008 and 2009. With quarterback Brady Reitzel back for his senior year along with safety/wide receiver Chuck Davis, the Spartans are primed to back up the ladder in the discussion of premier Loudoun County and regional powers.
How does Woodgrove follow up its best finish in school history?
The Wolverines had a player who rushed for 2,677 yards and 38 touchdowns in second-team All-Met Josh Sweet, notched their best record ever at 9-4, recorded their first two playoff wins ever and won a bet that left Coach Mike Skinner with a mohawk. Not bad for a school in its fourth season of existence. With Sweet and defensive lineman J.J. Jackson gone on to college, following up the historic season will be tough. But with the confidence built from a year ago and playmakers like wide receiver Dylan Mellor back, expectations are now swirling around Woodgrove football.
Is this the year for Westfield?
After seeing their undefeated run end in the fourth round of the playoffs during the previous two seasons, the Bulldogs broke through last year to the 6A North region final before falling to eventual state champ Centreville. For a team that’s gone 35-5 during the last three years under Coach Kyle Simmons and possesses talented playmakers in running back Evan Gray and safety James Gibson, Westfield’s hope is that the 2014 campaign that began Monday morning with a midnight practice will yield its first state title since 2007.
Can Dominion build on its success?
The Titans recorded their first winning season in school history with a 7-5 mark last year and they enter training camp with the cupboard plenty full. Clemson commit Chad Smith is a fresh off a summer spent at The Opening, where he finished fourth in the SPARQ competition, and looks to excel at both linebacker and running back, where he’ll run behind offensive line stalwarts Matt Christ, Tommy Christ and Adeeb Atariwa.
Where will the kings of Prince William go?
After boasting the top overall recruit according to Rivals.com in Woodbridge defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand, two close friends of the Alabama recruit will jockey for the title of the area’s top senior linemen — Stonewall Jackson’s Tim Settle and Hylton’s Matthew Burrell Jr. The college choice of both prospects will serve as a hot topic during the fall.
Who are the dark horse teams?
Optimism springs on the first day of the football season for all teams, especially those with chronicled success. But as time wears on and playoff time creeps closer, sleepers often emerge. A few to keep an eye on are teams under new coaches at Hayfield (Eric Henderson), Herndon (Jeremiah Davis) and Robinson (Scott Vossler); Falls Church (5A), which went 8-4 and made its first playoff appearance in nearly 30 years last season, Forest Park (6A), Loudoun Valley (3A) and a number of other up-and-comers that will ultimately emerge as contenders down the stretch to earn their place on this list.