Twenty-seven of the recent middle school graduates sitting in front of him were hooked.
“The meeting was a pitch to get us lifting and working out right then, and it worked,” center Jake Wernle said. “He doesn’t use a lot of words — it was a short meeting.”
Skinner and his first group of four-year players inherited a program with six total wins and left behind six playoff wins thanks to the tangible advantages earned during 7 a.m. weightlifting sessions. Woodgrove finished a school-best 11-2 this fall behind a senior class that reflects the determination of its coach.
“Skinner lives in the weight room,” Wernle said of the 57-year-old. “He only teaches weightlifting class, and I’m pretty sure he never moves from the weight room all day.”
Wernle, like many of his classmates, wanted to use freshman football as a way to adjust to high school life but wasn’t sure about taking the sport any further. At Woodgrove, the Bryant University commit added 90 pounds, almost all of it early-morning muscle. Defensive lineman Clay Dean (Virginia Tech) and running back Charlie Clewis underwent similar transformations under Skinner’s motivation.
“At the time I didn’t agree with him, but I couldn’t have asked for a better high school coach,” Clewis said. “He knows how to get the best out of each of his players. Tearing into somebody might make one kid the best on earth, but it might make one kid shrivel up in a ball and never want to play again. He knows how to work that.”
Clewis carried the ball 256 times for 1,665 yards and 28 touchdowns during his senior campaign. The Wolverines handily won a home playoff game against Heritage before overcoming one of Virginia’s most significant home-field advantages at Sherando for a 35-21 second-round win. Last week, Woodgrove drove nearly four hours to play Jefferson Forest, the top seed in 4A West, and ended the season with a 56-38 loss.
“Their strengths were our weaknesses, we lost to a better team, and I’m okay with it,” Skinner said. “You can only do so much about your 40 time, but you can make yourself bigger and stronger. This senior group realized that, and a lot of them came out of nowhere to become darn good football players and even better young men.”