Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson joked recently that since the Ashburn school opened in the 2000, the star of the football team has been the offensive line.
Position players have filtered in and out of the program, all conditioned to fill their roles in the single-wing offense that has been the trademark of one of the area’s most successful programs.
This season, though, Thompson faces a unique situation. Lining up under center will be Ryan Burns, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior considered the consensus third-ranked quarterback recruit in the country. And Thompson will try to tailor his offense to best fit the Stanford recruit.
It is a risky move by a longtime coach who has racked up seven region titles and a state championship in the past nine seasons relying on one system that relies mostly on a power running game.
But Thompson believes Burns — who completed 90 of 206 passes for 1,801 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season — will live up to the attention that has built up around him since before he took a varsity snap.
“Last year was not at all what I wanted and what anyone wanted really,” said Burns, whose team begins practice next week; some schools in Loudoun and Prince William have their first practices on Monday. “We’re looking to put up some numbers and be successful.”
Thompson last season said he “tore up” his offense to put in a base spread formation that would showcase Burns’s arm. By the end of the preseason scrimmages, with the Bulldogs struggling, the staff scrambled to re-install parts of the single wing.
Results in the season’s first two weeks — a 3-0 win over Robinson and a 22-14 loss to Chantilly in which the Chargers intercepted five passes — caused Thompson to pull back even more.
The Bulldogs fell to South County in the Northern Region semifinals, their earliest playoff exit in a decade.
After the season, Thompson said he immediately started looking for ways to again revamp the offense.
Thompson watched film with Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, charted the Stone Bridge offense from past years to identify strengths and weaknesses and borrowed some concepts from the Wake Forest offense his son, Patrick, a quarterback at the school, was mastering.
Dinner table conversations that had long been father teaching son suddenly were flipped. “I thought it was pretty funny that I was helping him out,” Patrick Thompson said.
Mickey Thompson, who’s entering his 23rd season as a head coach, hopes the result will be a team that looks much more comfortable on offense.
“We need to adapt and make changes,” Thompson said. “That’s kind of what we’re doing. We still have all our systems. We’re looking at the single wing, and it has worked effectively even the last few years, and we’re going to take that and expand on that.”
The alterations are different from the ones Stone Bridge attempted to implement last season.
The base offense will remain a single wing, with a wingback and tailback employed in the backfield, instead of a spread (three- and four-receiver sets).
But there are plenty of new packages and new terminology to implement.
The offense will have a number of short, high-efficiency passes designed to get the ball out quickly with potential for yards after the catch. The pace will more closely mirror some of the college systems Thompson has studied.
“Last year we had some changes and they didn’t quite work out,” offensive lineman Hunter Pack said. “And then this year, I wasn’t surprised [about more changes] because I think we want to throw with Burns and give him more opportunity.”
Said Burns: “We were pretty young last year, I don’t think we could really handle it. We have a lot of guys coming back on offense, we’re more mature, and I think we’ll be able to handle [changing the offense] a lot better this year.”
Thompson is hoping Burns’s performance will allow the Bulldogs to sling the ball around like they did in 2007, when Patrick Thompson completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,369 yards and 31 touchdowns in leading Stone Bridge to the Virginia AAA Division 5 title.
Burns’s teammates, too, are counting on it.
“With Burns having his second year in, he’s matured more, he can read everything better,” junior wide receiver D’Ante Yarborough said. “I think that’s going to give us a bigger advantage this year.”