Coaching changes are part of football, and this season there are new coaches at storied programs and rebuilding ones alike. By putting their own mark on the varied teams they’re taking over, new coaches can shape the landscape of the season.
One of the more significant changes was Aaron Brady stepping down at Gonzaga. Brady’s replacement, Randy Trivers, comes into a good situation, as the Eagles return a wealth of talent, including offensive lineman and Alabama commit Richie Petitbon.
Other new coaches are coming to schools in rebuilding years. While Quince Orchard is a perennial contender in Montgomery County, first-year Coach John Kelley inherits a Cougars program that has just four starters returning on both sides of the ball. At Wootton, Eddie Tolliver takes over a team that lost six of its top players, including wide receiver Trevon Diggs to Avalon, where former Wootton coach Tyree Spinner has accumulated a group of talented transfers. Park View’s new coach, Mick Mullins, who was an assistant at the school before leading Freedom-South Riding for four years, inherits a Patriots team that went just 2-18 over the last two years.
Some coaching changes will bring major changes to teams’ style of play. Mike Dougherty spent the last six seasons at Stonewall Jackson, where he turned the Raiders into perennial contenders with an up-tempo offense that averaged more than 32 points in 2013. Now at W.T. Woodson, Dougherty brings his high-octane spread offense with him.
Dougherty said the biggest challenge in his new coaching role is getting players acclimated to the tempo of his offense, but he is encouraged with the progress.
“We practice twice as fast as we play,” Dougherty said. “If you were to video us on day one and video us now, it’s two different teams.”
Another offensive-minded coach, Eric Henderson, took over at Hayfield after serving as the offensive coordinator at Lake Braddock. Henderson will look to infuse elements of a Bruins offense that scored nearly 46 points per game into a Hawks offense that averaged nearly 25 per game.
With Hand at Alabama after his stellar career as a defensive end at Woodbridge, it’s time for a new class of offensive and defensive linemen to step into the spotlight, and several of them already have made oral commitments to college programs.
The commitments include standout offensive linemen in Gonzaga’s Petitbon (Alabama) and Glenelg’s David Robbins (Florida State). The deep group of defensive linemen recruits includes Stone Bridge’s Aaron Crawford (North Carolina), Centreville’s Justin Skule (Vanderbilt), Quince Orchard’s Adam McLean (Penn State), Bullis’s Jonathan Holland (Penn State), Good Counsel’s Darius Fullwood (Kentucky) and Gaithersburg’s Kamonte Carter (Penn State).
The list of committed linemen will grow as Stonewall Jackson defensive lineman Tim Settle, Hylton offensive guard Matt Burrell and Friendship Collegiate offensive lineman Quarvez Boulware make their decisions in the coming months. Settle, ranked as ESPN’s 15th-best prospect, has trimmed his list to 15 schools that include Tennessee, Alabama, Clemson and Florida State, in that order. Offenses rarely test the mammoth lineman by running the ball in his direction.
Burrell, a four-star recruit, has yet to trim his list of more than 40 offers, but he visited Ohio State, Penn State and Florida State this summer. Burrell possesses a tremendous initial punch and solid footwork.
Boulware is an integral piece on both sides of the ball for a Knights team that graduated 24 seniors and has a top five of Alabama, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Maryland and Florida.
“He’s becoming a lot more vocal, but he’s really a lead by example kind of guy,” Friendship Collegiate Coach Mike Hunter said. “He’ll get in there, and get nasty and get practice going, which makes us a better team.”
One of the first things Mike Skinner had to do when he took over as Woodgrove’s coach in 2012 was forget about wins and losses.
The task was easier said than done for a man who had coached Centreville to a state title in 2000 and was already a member of the Fairfax County Football Hall of Fame. But in order to build a pedigree of success at a school that had only been open for two years, Skinner knew he had to bring an element of fun to the field.
The result was friendly competitions at practice and a bet last year that ended with Skinner sporting a mohawk after the Wolverines won their first two playoff games in school history.
“It takes time. Early on, you have to judge things by the commitment of the kids and their work ethic in the weight room and on the field,” said Skinner, who has coached the Wolverines to a 16-8 record over two seasons. “The wins will come, but if you judge everything by that, the kids won’t have fun and the team won’t grow.”
Along with Woodgrove, several other teams in their early stages of varsity play have emerged as contenders. Following its first playoff berth, Patriot enters its third varsity season as one of the area’s top teams with more than 10 returning starters, including quarterback Cody Agnew. Tuscarora has won at least nine games and one playoff game in three of its four years of existence. And Champe, which went 2-8 last year after going winless in its inaugural season, stands to improve.
St. Charles (Waldorf) and Rock Ridge (Ashburn) open their doors for the first time this fall — but both schools’ football teams have been practicing for weeks. Despite a dearth of seniors, St. Charles will play a full varsity schedule and look to follow the quick ascents of other new schools in the area.
The private vs. public showdown between the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference contenders and last year’s Virginia 6A champions attracted ESPNU. It’s a historically rare matchup of teams from different realms willing to schedule outside their normal pool of opponents.
“With the playoff power-point system for Virginia [public] schools, it can be hard to schedule private school teams because you don’t get any points for that game,” Centreville Coach Chris Haddock said. “But we had a good season and had a number of starters coming back, and as I started talking to some other coaches, it kind of sparked the idea in my head. Ultimately, we thought about how a game against two strong public and private school teams could really be big for the community.”
Though that game is the clearest example, creatively competitive scheduling is taking place throughout the Washington area. Public and private school teams alike are searching for better nonconference competition to boost their profiles.
Wise, the 2012 Maryland 4A champion, will head to Jersey City, N.J., for its season opener at St. Peter’s Prep, rated No. 20 in the nation in the MaxPreps composite rankings.
Riverdale Baptist was perfect in a 2013 Capital Area Football Conference championship season. But relatively less prominent CAFC competition led first-year Coach Caesar Nettles to look elsewhere to schedule teams such as Calvert Hall, St. Mary’s-Annapolis and WCAC up-and-comer McNamara to give his Crusaders a chance to show how they stack up .
“The goal is to play the best programs in the area and get to the point where we can consistently play with them,” Nettles said. “So in order to do that, we have to start scheduling them.”
But with the restructuring of the D.C. public schools into two divisions, Stars and Stripes, each team can play the five other programs in its league at least once, and the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association has experienced a newfound parity with more closely matched teams playing each other more regularly.
Wilson reached the Turkey Bowl last season, and it is highly touted by area coaches again this year. H.D. Woodson, the defending Turkey Bowl champions, and Dunbar will be good again, too.
Maryland 4A is also wide open. Traditionally dominant teams such as Quince Orchard, Wise , Old Mill will be strong, but those programs lost coaches, stars, or both. In Prince George’s County, Eleanor Roosevelt and DuVal are both built for deep playoff runs, and Suitland, last year’s 4A state runner-up, lost a lot to graduation but should contend again. In Anne Arundel County, last year’s Maryland 4A East champion Meade lost major talent, and Old Mill and Arundel are both talented enough to play into December.
Returning Maryland 4A champion Northwest may be the slight favorite among the Montgomery County teams, but parity is the story in Maryland’s highest classification.