As the calendar drifts deeper into August, there’s only one thing on some people’s minds these days: football practice. For most area teams the grind started on Monday, and it won’t end until the 29th, when a high school season chock-full of story lines officially begins.
Here are a few things to watch out for this fall.
Maybe you didn’t notice Lake Braddock’s next standout quarterback because he was only a sophomore backup last year. Or you didn’t notice him because he was sitting behind the Bruins’ then-standout quarterback, two-time All-American Caleb Henderson. Or perhaps you didn’t notice him because he was too busy playing linebacker last season.
Then again, maybe you saw him throw a football at some point, in which case you definitely noticed him.
With Henderson now plying his trade down in Chapel Hill, Lake Braddock’s considerable quarterback spotlight falls on Kyle Edwards, a rising junior affectionately dubbed “the next Andy Dalton” by his teammates for his short-cropped red hair and pinpoint passes.
Edwards, the son of Lake Braddock defensive coordinator Billy Edwards, has been groomed to be Henderson’s replacement for some time, but he began taking reps as a wide receiver in the offseason last year. Then he got bored in practice one day and started doing drills with the defense, a move that led him to play safety and linebacker during his entire sophomore season.
“The way I look at it, when you’re playing quarterback, the toughest people you’re facing are linebackers and safeties, so playing those positions, I know what they’re looking for,” Edwards said. “I got to see the other perspective and see what adjustments they’re making.”
Watching Edwards consistently sling passes into tight windows in practice this week, it would be easy to believe he’s been the Bruins’ quarterback all along. He’s yet to start a game under center, but the easy rapport he carries with senior wideout AJ Alexander and company suggests he’s ready to fill some big shoes at Lake Braddock.
Standing a little under six feet, Edwards doesn’t have the big arm that attracted so much attention to his predecessor. Accuracy is what makes the new kid stand out, as is the heady decision-making that comes with his coach’s-son football IQ.
“I’m just me. I’m not Caleb,” Edwards said. “It’s about what can I do for the team, what can I do to get better. It’s not about trying to live up to anybody’s name. Really it’s about trying to get better and win.”
Lake Braddock coach Jim Poythress points to the mental side as Edwards’ biggest strength, but he also notices enough physical versatility to render his new quarterback a legitimate dual threat. He may not throw quite as far as Henderson or run as fast as former Bruins great Michael Nebrich, but he does everything well enough to make him as well-rounded as anyone.
“He has to make his own name,” Alexander said. “It’s a big expectation to live up to, but I’ve got faith in him. He’s been training all summer, and he’s been training since freshman year. This is what he’s born to do.”
There’s an “unholy alliance” brewing at McLean this year. That’s according to Shaun Blair, the Highlanders’ new head coach this season. Blair, 35, arrives at McLean for his first head coaching job this fall, and he’s brought an unlikely combination of assistants along with him.
In keeping with his previous coaching jobs at Lake Braddock and Robinson, Blair is joined this year by several coaches from both rival schools. It’s a mixture as unorthodox as it is venerable, especially when you throw in former Woodson head coach Joe Dishun as defensive coordinator.
“These kids, through our eyes, all have a fresh opportunity,” Blair said of his new team. “So whatever they were previously, they can almost reinvent themselves because they’re a blank slate. I don’t have a preconceived notion of any of them, nor does anybody else. The players got really fired up about that.”
Just as he’s done with his coaching crew, Blair is installing elements of both Lake Braddock and Robinson into his McLean offense this year. The Highlanders are preparing to run variations of Lake Braddock’s no-huddle spread offense while also incorporating some of the wing-T blocking schemes ingrained in Robinson’s power run game.
“We want to be like Stanford when they had Andrew Luck and they had Toby Gerhart in the backfield,” Blair said. “We’ve got a guy who can run the football who’s going to be dynamic, but we’ve also got 10 skill guys who can catch the football, so we need to be able to use those guys.”
Blair has a number of reliable pass-catchers on his side this year, perhaps the most talented being senior wide receiver Jordan Cole. Also a member of the school’s basketball and lacrosse teams, Cole leads a group of guys who can thrive in the spread, especially when matched up against linebackers in the slot.
Another guy excited about the new system is senior Brian Maffei, who will start at quarterback after sitting behind Danny Hecht last year. Maffei hopes the up-tempo style might wear down defenses enough to make up for any deficiencies his offense may have at the line of scrimmage.
“I love it,” he said. “I love the short, quick passing game, keeping the defense on their heels. Everything we do is adjusted to the defense, so we find their weak spot. It should be unstoppable.”
Like McLean, Woodson is hopping onto the wave of spread offenses that is sweeping football fields across the country. In February the Cavaliers welcomed new head coach Mike Dougherty, the former head man at Stonewall Jackson whose fast-paced attack took the Raiders all the way to the 6A North Region semifinals last year.
Dougherty and company are looking to spread the field as wide as they can to force opponents to defend space instead of people. And he’s looking to do it quickly — Stonewall went from averaging 51 plays per game in 2012 to 81 in 2013, according to Dougherty.
“Our whole point is to just be chaotic and to run as many plays as possible because what we find is it just wears teams down,” Dougherty said. “It’s the equivalent of full-court press in basketball from the first whistle to the last. We try to practice that way and work out that way in the offseason.”
Dougherty acknowledged that he doesn’t have that one game-breaker who tends to thrive in his system, someone like former Stonewall quarterback Greg Stroman. But he says he’s got enough quality players who are ready and willing to make it work.
“We’re bringing a completely different mindset here,” Dougherty said. “It’s going to be a slow acceptance or a slow buy-in, but I think these kids want something different, and what we’re bringing is completely different from what has been done here the last few years.”
The Cavaliers, who have combined to win just seven games in the last three years, might have enough talent to make a run toward the playoffs this fall. Senior quarterback Pat Riley returns to start under center, and Will Cogan, China Moon and Connor McLaughlin will add more fuel to the fire.
“From a skill aspect I feel like we have a lot of pieces,” said tight end Andrew Snodgrass, a senior transfer from Columbus High in Georgia. “The line needs to get a little nastier, but from a skill perspective I think things will be pretty good.”
Missing out on the playoffs with a 5-5 record didn’t sit well with Oakton last year, not after winning the region in 2012. The disappointment lingers with the players these days, making for some spirited practices that has coach Jason Rowley calling this one of the most energetic bunches he’s coached in some time.
“I’m encouraged,” Rowley said. “We’re looking for high energy from this group, guys that are committed. There are a lot of kids out here, and we’ve got guys that are committed and want to perform well and are program guys.”
Taking over for Michael Ferrara at quarterback this year is Sal Tutone, a transfer who sat out his sophomore season at Paul VI last year with a wrist injury. The midsized signal-caller doesn’t have the laser arm of a standout pocket passer, but his athleticism should keep defenses wary of Oakton’s misdirection offense.
More than anything, returning seniors like linebacker/running back David Allely are determined to restore their program’s luster in their final high school seasons.
“I think this year we’ve got a chip on our shoulder and something to prove,” Allely said.