Centreville running back Taylor Boose is one of two 1,000-yard rushers returning for the defending Virginia 6A state champion Wildcats (John McDonnell/The Washington Post).
Centreville running back Taylor Boose is one of two 1,000-yard rushers returning for the defending Virginia 6A state champion Wildcats (John McDonnell/The Washington Post).

With the kickoff of the 2014 high school football season quickly approaching, our reporters will be out at local practices checking in with contenders, dark horses and rebuilding teams alike as they gear up for the fall. Here is the latest installment of Camp Countdown:

A year ago, there was no obstacle too great, no mountain too high for the Centreville football team as it plowed through 15 opponents with a 34.1-point average margin of victory and ascended to the pinnacle of the Virginia 6A and Post Top 20 ranks.

But as the Wildcats were cementing their place in championship lore, perhaps their greatest barrier was forming ahead of them, one that seems to only grow as the 2014 season draws closer.

Colleges began handing out offers to their slew of talented rising seniors, shifting more of the recruiting world’s eyes their way. National publications zeroed in on the Wildcats, ultimately placing them among storied powerhouses from Texas and Florida as one of the country’s top 10 teams. Whether they belong among such company will be tested at the outset, as Centreville hosts WCAC stalwart and nationally ranked Gonzaga in its Sept. 5 season opener before a national audience on ESPNU.

The hype is both deserved and dangerous, serving as either a potential motivation tool for a team returning 15 starters or a possible stumbling block in Centreville’s bid to repeat.

“All the national rankings and hype are neat, but our goal is still the same: to win a state championship,” Haddock said. “We don’t need to be ranked to do that or understand that. But yeah, it’s a difficult balance. The kids aren’t stupid and you want them to enjoy the rewards of what they accomplished. But we can’t be satisfied. We’ve got to be ready to play and perform.”

A subtle reminder of this humble, focused approach came earlier this week, when All-Met senior running back A.J. Turner was told he would need to have surgery on a lingering wrist injury that occurred earlier this summer. Both Haddock and Turner said there’s no set timeframe on the South Carolina commit’s return, but Haddock expects him back “sooner than later.”

Fresh off an impressive summer that included an appearance at The Opening, Turner spent Friday’s first practice on the sideline encouraging his teammates and fielding light kicks and passes with his left hand. But when the explosive playmaker, who totaled 1,697 yards and 32 touchdowns last year, does return to practice, he knows he will be expected to produce.

“I have a passion for the game, so it hurts my soul but it’s life; things happen,” Turner said. “I’ve been working with the guys all summer and I was fortunate to be able to compete against some of the nation’s best to be prepared and make all of us better. With it being my senior year, I’m just as motivated, if not more, than last year to finish on a good note.”

Not only will Centreville get every team’s best shot each week, it also must be on guard for unfamiliar looks and formations as five of the Wildcats’ 10 opponents have new coaches at the helm. But the Wildcats stand to break out a few different schemes of their own under new starting quarterback Joe Ferrick.

The senior has roamed the sidelines since he was about 4 years old, when his dad, Rich, first joined the Wildcats staff as a defensive assistant. With Scott Walter graduated, Ferrick’s long-awaited desire to be the starting quarterback is now his. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Ferrick is more of a pocket passer and less of a rushing threat than Walter, but his strong competitive attitude, attention to detail and vast knowledge of the playbook should serve him well.

“I love to compete, so I like the challenge of having to take over and continue the success we had last year,” said Ferrick, who spent ample time working out with Turner and second-team All-Met receiver/defensive back Charles Tutt during the offseason. “I know I’m not the fastest, but I’ve been working hard and I’m going to continue working hard so that I’m decisive in my throws and reads.”

Ferrick can find solace in the plethora of weapons at his disposal, such as Turner, Tutt, tight end David Liddle and running back Taylor Boose, as well as skilled offensive linemen Justin Skule (Vanderbilt commit) and Kainoa O’Connor and Sean Culleiton.

On defense, the Wildcats have a proven winner and physical presence in linebacker Tyler Love, who also won a state wrestling title last year, along with quiet but effective leader Jake Behne at outside linebacker, defensive back Xavier Nickens-Yzer and ever-improving defensive lineman Jordan Brooks, who added weight in the offseason. Cutting down on big plays and remaining consistent will be the focus of this bunch, which helped record four shutouts and held Oscar Smith to six points in the state final but also gave up an average of 25.3 points in the three games prior to the championship.

One attribute that could serve as an aid is Centreville’s depth. Haddock calls this year’s team his deepest since taking over in 2010 and he hopes that will create healthy competition, more accountability and even more options to rely upon in their quest to meet their own lofty expectations.

“Last year was great, but it’s behind us now,” Haddock said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work to accomplish what we want to accomplish, but I think the kids have a good grasp of that.”

Camp Countdown: Westfield | Robinson | Falls Church

Camp Countdown: W.T. Woodson | Riverdale Baptist

Related: Ten burning questions as Va. football practices begin

Full 2014 Virginia area high school football schedule

More: Slew of transfers to Avalon draws ire of coaches

Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.