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Liberty District

Stone Bridge

2012 record: 14-1

Head coach: Mickey Thompson

Key players: RB/DB Sterling Dailey, Sr.; WR D’Ante Yarborough, Sr.; DL/OL Nate Davis, Sr.; OL/DL Connor Smith, Sr.; QB Joe Thompson, Soph.

Outlook: The defending Division 5 state finalists will make up for the losses of Jonathan Allen (Alabama) and Ryan Burns (Stanford) with beefy linemen paving the way for playmakers Dailey and Yarborough. Defense will need to improve if they want to tear through their schedule like they did last year.

Madison

2012 record: 8-3

Head coach: Lenny Schultz

Key players: RB/LB Marcus Pearson, Sr.; QB Trey Ramsey, Jr.; OL/DL Jerish Neil, Sr.; OL/DL Ian Anspach, Sr.; QB Mitchell Goddard, Sr.; WR/DB Jordan Ebersole, Soph.

Outlook: The Warhawks have some experience coming back at the line of scrimmage, but they lost just about all their contributors at skill positions. It should be interesting to see how they handle a brutal September schedule.

Langley

2012 record: 7-5

Head coach: John Howerton

Key players: OL/DL Brooks Norris, Sr.; OL/LB Alex Kolencik, Sr.; FB/LB Kevin Fisher, Sr.; QB/DB Nick Casso, Sr.

Outlook: Casso’s importance in the Saxons’ run-oriented offense heightens in the wake of running back Philip Munn and wide receiver Phil Novacki’s graduation. Key losses on defense indicate Langley has plenty of work to do to earn a winning record this season.

Jefferson

2012 record: 6-5

Head coach: Ken Kincaid

Key players: WR/DB Daniel Noh, Sr.; LB/RB Kia Eskandarian, Sr.; OL/DL Brian Welch, Sr.; RB/DB Nathan Kim, Sr.; LB/OL Daven Kim, Sr.; QB Tim Zhong, Sr.

Outlook: The graduation of Patrick O’Connor and Jack Brown will hurt a TJ team already thin on both sides of the ball. Kincaid’s boys will rely on work ethic and speed to keep the momentum of last year’s playoff berth going this season.

Fairfax

2012 record: 5-5

Head coach: Kevin Simonds

Key players: RB/DB Nick Scott, Sr.; RB/LB Max Kavaljian, Sr.; OL Peter Laing, Jr.; OL Anthony Zema, Sr.; RB/LB Jabril Cartier, Sr.

Outlook: Scott and Kavaljian provide a dangerous blend of speed and power in the backfield for a Fairfax squad returning seven starters on offense and six on defense. As long as they stay healthy, this team can hang with anyone in the district.

McLean

2012 record: 4-6

Head coach: Dennis Worek

Key players: RB/LB Gabe Sutherland, Sr.; WR/DB Manny Enriquez, Sr.; OL/DL James Howard, Sr.; OL/DL Ben Lafoon, Sr.

Outlook: Sutherland leads a strong group of returning seniors that could help the Highlanders surprise some people if they stay healthy. Look for McLean to stay right in the thick of the Liberty race this season.

South Lakes

2012 record: 3-7

Head coach: Marvin Wooten

Key players: LB Alex Woodward, Sr.; DL Ethan Clark, Sr.; OL/DL Marc Harrison, Sr.; ATH Khayri Denny, Sr.; ATH Akram Gibreel, Sr.

Outlook: The Seahawks lost their two most reliable playmakers, Rashaan Jones and Zac Parker, to graduation, but coaches are optimistic about their large senior class coming back this year.

Marshall

2012 record: 0-10

Head coach: Greg Sullivan

Key players: C Mike Najmabdi, Sr.; OG Brandon Molina, Sr.; OG Maliek Lewis, Sr.; FB/LB Taylor Self, Sr.; TE/DE Tim Garner, Sr.

Outlook: The Statesmen have nowhere to go but up, especially with 18 starters coming back to the fold. Greater size and strength at the line of scrimmage will allow them to go after a few wins this season.

When Gabe Sutherland and Manny Enriquez look back on last season, all they see are regrets scattered all over the field. A missed tackle near the goal line; a botched snap at the 40; a season-ending injury near midfield; disappointing losses everywhere. A series of crucial injuries crippled a team already thin in numbers, the result being four straight defeats that culminated in a 4-6 record.

One of those injuries hit Burke Bartow, the team’s centerpiece at the line of scrimmage who missed nearly his entire senior season with a bad back. Then there was the team’s best skill player, wide receiver Samer Abelmoty, whose senior campaign was sundered by a knee injury. Enriquez was next, breaking his wrist in the sixth week to keep him sidelined for each of those four season-ending losses.

“I was really mad, so I put in a lot of work in the offseason,” Enriquez said. “I’m making sure I don’t take any plays off so that I have no regrets this season.”

With Enriquez and Sutherland back to lead a strong senior class, there’s considerably more optimism on the Highlanders’ sideline this year. Sutherland, a region standout at linebacker and fullback last season, has a feeling his team’s fortunes are on the way up this fall.

“Last year was kind of a disappointment,” he said. “We have a big senior class, and we know this is our last chance, our last hurrah. So we want to win and go as far as possible. We’ve just got to stay focused and keep executing and playing hard.”

It helps that Dennis Worek heads a second-year coaching staff considerably more familiar with their personnel than they were a year ago. Like any new staff, Worek and company struggled last season to solidify which players belonged in which spots, a predicament exacerbated by the raft of injuries that kept coming at them throughout the fall.

“I even said to them at the beginning of the year, without even coaching them one day, ‘Look how much farther ahead we are this year than we were last year,’” said Fran Bedont, an assistant who coached alongside Worek at Hayfield Secondary in the 70’s. “Terminologies, they know what we want and we know what they can do, it’s just a more symbiotic relationship than it was a year ago.”

McLean welcomes back an improved offensive line highlighted by senior returners Ben Lafoon, James Howard and Connor Meyers along with senior Christian Raveling, who sat out last year. That burly group will make life easier for Sutherland, their hard-nosed downhill runner, as well as Amir Oueid, a shifty senior tailback. Enriquez has looked sharp at the wide receiver spot this offseason, as have fellow pass catchers C.J. Downey and Owen Pilewski. The quarterback position remains a bit of a question mark, with senior Danny Hecht and junior Brian Maffei battling for the starting job.

Sutherland will lead the defense from the linebacker spot, where he’ll line up behind Lafoon, Howard, Meyers and Raveling. Hecht and Enriquez will shuffle between linebacker and the secondary, where junior Jordan Cole and senior Topher McDonald will drop into coverage.

Among the team’s biggest goals this season will be to exact revenge on arch rival Langley, who walloped the Highlanders 27-7 in the traditional season finale last year. McLean players have been seeing big gains in their workouts ever since that week, in large part because all the plates in the weight room are ingrained with the message, ‘Beat Langley.’

Worek, who came out of retirement a few years ago to serve as the defensive coordinator at Thomas Jefferson before replacing Jim Patrick at McLean last year, coached at Langley for four seasons before embarking on a seven-year stint at Madison that featured a region championship in 1996. He’s seen the McLean-Langley rivalry intensify significantly since his days with the Saxons.

“When I was at Langley, the rivalry wasn’t quite as heated as it is now, didn’t seem it anyway,” Worek said. “In my first year both teams were 0-9 playing in the last game - we called it the Toilet Bowl. We were down by I think two touchdowns near the end and ended up winning. The student body came out and carried me across the field.”

Before they meet Langley, though, the Highlanders know they need to take advantage of a favorable early-season schedule. None of their first five games come against a team with a winning record last year; after that, they’ll face Stone Bridge, Fairfax, Madison, Jefferson and Langley.

“That’s our huge goal right there,” Sutherland said. “We want to go 5-0 right out the gate and just have a really great season.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com