Headed into the summer, there was no telling what kind of football team Stonewall Jackson might have this season. There were several seniors that had gone unbeaten on the freshman team three years ago, but when you haven’t posted a winning varsity season since 2004, doubt hovers.
Then 6-foot-3 senior receiver J.R. Washington decided to return to football after two years of concentrating on basketball. Senior Keenen Boyce, a capable running back-linebacker, moved in from Georgia. And most important of all, 1,000-yard senior rusher C.J. Burnes returned from India, where he had moved in December and lived for six months after his father’s State Department job took the family there.
Three guys who weren’t in the program in May were among the Raiders’ many standouts in the season-opening 29-14 win Friday night at Forest Park.
Burnes, who said there was only a 50-50 chance of him returning to the team, rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown, completed a pass on a fake punt and made an interception. Washington caught four balls for 95 yards, including a 51-yard gain on the first play of the game and a five-yard fade pass from junior Greg Stroman to cap a 96-yard drive in the third quarter. And Boyce rattled off nine- and 12-yard runs among his six carries.
“They’re all impact kids, clearly,” Stonewall Coach Mike Dougherty said. “It’s fun to watch them play, it really is.
“It’s gigantic [to win the opener]. It changes the energy in practice coming off a win than coming off a loss. These kids are believing right now, and we want to keep them believing.”
The Raiders scored on their opening possession when Stroman kept from the one-yard line after faking a handoff. Forest Park drove 95 yards late in the first quarter when senior quarterback Joe Walker, who returned to the team after a one-year absence, hooked up with All-Met junior sprinter Mustaqeem Williams for a 29-yard score. Walker threw for 154 yards and ran for 54.
Washington fumbled at the end of a catch-and-run midway through the second quarter but senior Reuben Osei recovered the ball in the end zone for a score (and recovered the subsequent onside kick). Junior Justin Vargas kicked a 27-yard field goal for a 15-7 halftime lead.
What Dougherty thought changed the game was the 96-yard drive after Forest Park opened the second half with a three-and-out. All but 12 yards came on the ground, much of it courtesy of Stroman (150 yards passing, 60 rushing).
From that point, Forest Park’s possessions were fumble, Walker touchdown run, punt, interception, fumble, interception.
All of it reminded Washington of why he returned to football.
“I remember as freshmen that come senior year we wanted to try to make it to states,” Washington said. “I just wanted to come back to the football team and have fun my senior year.
“We’re very confident in ourselves. We know we have a lot of pieces, a lot of playmakers. Once we jell together and get it all together, we think we can be a threat.”