Coming into high school, Stonewall Jackson’s Shawn Murphy had trouble imagining what varsity football would feel like.

Murphy had been a stellar youth player — a long-armed torpedo who could play linebacker or safety — but any jump to a new level in sports brings with it uncertainty and doubt. Would his success carry over?

Now a 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore, Murphy said it took him less than a week to adjust.

“I knew [varsity football] was going to be fast,” he said. “But it really wasn’t as fast as I thought.”

A few weeks after Murphy realized he belonged at the high school level, a college coach told him he could belong at the college level, too.

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He received his first Division I offer, from the University of Virginia, in October of his freshman season.

Since then, Murphy has rocketed up national databases and drawn recruiters from all over the country to one of the oldest high schools in Prince William County. According to 247 Sports, Murphy is top inside linebacker and No. 3 player in the country for the Class of 2022. He has more than 20 Division I offers, including from Alabama, LSU and Ohio State.

Such a player coming from a program that went winless just a few years ago felt like a major surprise. But the real shocker at Stonewall is that he isn’t alone. Another player on the defense is drawing nearly as much interest — 6-3, 295-pound defensive lineman Tyleik Williams.

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“Usually when Shawn gets an offer or I get an offer, the next one comes within like 20 minutes to the same school. It’s like a package,” Williams said during a recent practice.

Williams, a junior, has 15 Division I offers and is the No. 12 defensive tackle in the Class of 2021. Together, he and Murphy have lifted the profile of a once-stagnant Raiders program. Now the team is starting to back up its rising reputation on the field.

“No matter what, we’re going to be slept on because of the past,” senior wide receiver Elijah Reese said. “Bringing it every game and showing that we can compete with the best is what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

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The season that put a stain on the Raiders’ reputation was 2015, when they finished 0-10. They won two games the following season and opted for a coaching change. Carroll Walker, a 1989 graduate of Stonewall, took over with a plan to change the culture in Manassas.

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“Everyone has been focused on the big picture,” Walker said.

So far, Walker’s plan has worked. The Raiders won three games in 2017 and then went 5-5 in the regular season last year to earn their first playoff appearance since 2014. They have started this season 3-1, with their only loss coming against No. 6 Westfield.

Ask the players at Stonewall what makes this team different, and they talk about athleticism. This program has always had athletes, but now those athletes are being used properly.

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“Yeah, people say we have athletes. I don’t know if they think we can play football,” Murphy said. “Because having athletes on the field is different than having a football team. With a football team, everything is put together and organized. We’re trying to prove we have that.”

The program is also trying to thrust as many players as they can into the recruiting spotlight. Recruitments such as Murphy’s or Williams’s can have a positive effect for a school that isn’t at the top of the local hierarchy.

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“Just them bringing in [recruiters] has brought attention to everyone else,” Reese said. “And young guys will start coming here because of that, because they see what Coach Walker does for us.”

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Reese has an offer from Georgetown, and fellow wideout Khalid Shabazz-Williams has a handful of his own. With more recruiters and reporters hanging around, players have started to view each game as an opportunity to make progress on two fronts: the continued reclamation of the Raiders and their personal mission to catch the eye of a big-time program.

“It’s helping everybody,” Walker said. “Coaches come by, and they’re not looking at one kid, they see the overall picture.”

The overall picture for Stonewall is still a work in progress. Walker and the Raiders have worked to get the program to this point, one that feels like the verge of true success, but there are plenty of milestones still ahead. On Friday night, the team will face Champe with a chance to start 4-1 for just the second time in 15 seasons.

“I’m tired of [the program] being trashed,” Murphy said. “We’ve earned everything we have so far. Now it just needs to be maintained.”

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