Dominion linebacker Chad Smith sat in the school’s library after Monday’s first two-a-day session surrounded by coaches and family, anxious to make history. The blue-chip recruit made his commitment to Clemson official Monday with his signature on the financial aid agreement for the 2013-14 spring semester. Smith is the first Titans football player to sign to a Big Five (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC) school.
Smith led the 11-year-old Sterling school in rushing (752) and receiving yards (234) last season in the Titans Wing T offense, but his offensive duties will greatly diminish this season. After going 7-5 a year ago, the highest single-season win total in school history, Dominion has added transfers and groomed underclassmen to increase their threats out of the backfield.
Smith, who missed the first week of practice will on vacation with his family, will spend a majority of the offensive snaps at tight end this season, and isn’t the featured back as the Titans now have six players they can shuffle as tailbacks. For a Titans team that has often leaned heavily on a single offensive playmaker, this is a positive development.
“It’s not built around one player,” Dominion Coach Karl Buckwalter said of his team. “Chad wasn’t here for the first week of camp, so we emphasized that No. 44 is not here. I think it was a blessing he missed last week so kids could play without him. Kids have really taken a hold of that.”
Much is expected of junior tailback/cornerback Brandon Ruffin who scored three touchdowns in his first three games last season. Ruffin transferred from T.C. Williams in early September after his cousin Julian Dawkins, 22, was slain in Alexandria in May of last year by an off-duty Arlington County sheriff’s deputy. Ruffin is the younger brother of 2008 and 2009 All-Met Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year and Washington Mystics guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.
Ruffin spent last season playing catch up due to his late arrival, but showed the speed and downhill running that should make him a key piece in 2014. He ran for 225 yards on 35 carries with three touchdowns last season.
“I want to thank one person in particular for getting me caught up, and that’s Chad Smith,” Ruffin said. “He got on me when I did things wrong, and he praised me when I did things right. He never let me get too big headed in practice.”
Ruffin and Smith are two of 10 returning starters for Dominion. Also returning is two-way linemen Adeeb Atariwa, who will anchor the Titans front, wide receiver Luke Thompson, safety Joseph Betts and running back/linebacker Jamar Blake.
Dominion has also added junior Tucker Strycharz (St. John’s) and junior Taliek Washington (Virginia Academy) who will be a part of the backfield rotation.
The quarterback position remains very much up for grabs with senior Jake Stapleton, junior Matt Gricoski and sophomore Tyrell Estridge vying for the position. Whoever emerges will be tasked with helping to jump-start an offense that was outscored 241-239 last season and averaged just under 20 points per game.
“We have a lot of weapons that a lot of teams and outsiders don’t even realize because they’re under the radar,” Smith said. “Ruffin has all the natural gifts, he just has to show it on Fridays, and Strycharz is a truck. Teams are going to have to start game planning for both those guys.”
The Titans began their offseason workouts in preparation for this season on Dec. 2, just a week after their Class 4A second-round loss to Salem. Dominion now recognizes that date as the team’s birthday, and the mantra for this season is to make it past that early December date.
“We’re going to come out the first game and do business and compete every single week,” Smith said. “We don’t want teams to overlook us on the schedule. We had a good season last year and proved we can compete on a high level, and we have to do it again this year.”
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