Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson talks with team after practice (Photo by Tariq Lee/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 our Camp Countdown:

Stone Bridge is accustomed to starting the season atop preseason rankings, but with the loss of several key players and coming off their worst season since 2001, the Bulldogs are positioned to begin 2014 under the radar for a change. It’s a new feeling for a team that reached three state championship games in the past five seasons.

But the Bulldogs don’t want to begin a slide and are working on a new offense this season with a new cast. Junior quarterback Joe Thompson will lead the Bulldogs spread offense — a major shift from their single wing staple that allowed Stone Bridge to rush for 3,487 yards in last season’s 9-3 campaign.

“We don’t have the players we’ve had, and it’s hard for us to really get into the single wing and pound on people,” Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson said. “I really think we have to throw the ball better. We have a scholarship quarterback, we need to spread the field and throw a little bit.”

Thompson will be the field general for the second straight year, and he was extremely vocal during Stone Bridge’s Thursday practice session. The 6-foot-1 quarterback has added weight and improved his speed to make plays with his feet in zone read situations.

Stone Bridge QB Joe Thompson will have larger role in new offense in 2014 (Photo by John McDonnell/The Wahsington Post Stone Bridge QB Joe Thompson will have a larger role in the team’s new offense. (John McDonnell/The Wahsington Post)

He will be without standout tailback Sterling Dailey (2,018 rushing yards), but senior Collin Buckley takes over at that position. Buckley is a downhill runner who likes to get inside the offensive line. Senior Tanner Karafa (Boston College) will be a key contributor in the passing game and senior Chance Frye will also be an integral part of a Bulldogs offense that returns just three starters.

At 6-foot-4, 305 pounds Andrew Vastardis, who attended camp at Michigan, will be back at guard on Stone Bridge’s smallest offensive line in Thompson’s tenure. Newcomers and defensive players will be looked upon to fill other spots.

“Our offense is pretty complex this year, and we’re still struggling with it a little bit,” Joe Thompson said. “Everyday we’re getting more comfortable with it. We can’t put the ball on the ground and have a lot of penalties. If we can stay sharp against those teams and know our stuff, we can win.”

The Bulldogs defense had trouble stopping teams last season, and gave up three or more touchdowns in five games. But they return nine starters and a more mature secondary. Senior cornerback Corey Wells and Frye will play the corners with a lot of depth behind them when they need a breather. That’s a luxury Stone Bridge didn’t have last season.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Karafa will be charged with leading the linebackers after only shifting to middle linebacker during the latter stages of the 2013 season.

“I had zero practice time for linebacker in the preseason last year,” Karafa said. “I feel like I’m going to be able to go along with the speed of the play instead of just cleaning it up.

North Carolina commit Aaron Crawford forms a powerful duo with Tony Gallegos at defensive tackle that the Bulldogs expect will cause a lot of havoc inside. Crawford has a minor shoulder injury that kept him out of practice this week, but doesn’t expect to miss time in the regular season. Senior Jimmy Prohaska will be at defensive end, and all three are returning starters.

The Bulldogs will be tested early with a grueling three-game stretch to open the season against contenders Lake Braddock, Langley and Broad Run. They also host Westfield in Week 5, a team that beat them 30-6 a year ago.

“I have to work harder. We might not have the numbers that we’ve had in the past but we still have a lot of good football players,” Mickey Thompson said. “We have a tradition here to uphold, and we can’t let this be a part of a slip. We can’t let 9-3 turn into 5-5. That just can’t happen.”

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Camp Countdown: Westfield | Robinson | Falls Church | Centreville

W.T. Woodson | Lake Braddock | Patriot | Battlefield

Briar Woods | Dominion | Riverdale Baptist | Wilson

Quince Orchard | Wootton | Bullis | Patuxent | Gonzaga

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