2010-08-25 / Sports

Bring on the Friday night lights

By Caroline Gecker INTERN

Manchester High players perform drills during a recent practice in preparation for their season opener against state champion Thomas Dale on Sept. 10. Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer Manchester High players perform drills during a recent practice in preparation for their season opener against state champion Thomas Dale on Sept. 10. Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer After a summer that saw a disappointing U.S. finish in the World Cup, the continuing demise of Tiger Woods’ career and the insufferable media circus surrounding LeBron James’ “decision,” it’s safe to say that sports fans are longing for a break from the insanity of the professional sporting world. Fortunately, high school football teams across the county are gearing up to give the people what they want: young athletes playing for the love of the game.

Here’s the scoop on three local teams’ chances this fall.

Manchester High School

In his 12th season with the Manchester Lancers, head coach Tom Hall wants to build on last year’s solid but disappointing effort. The talented young team was expected to be a contender for the Dominion District title but ended up finishing 6-4 overall, 5-3 in the district, earning fourth place and leaving Hall “not at all” satisfied.

Odds are that this season Manchester will improve upon its 2009 record as Hall hopes. Unlike last season, the Lancers have an experienced offense with nine senior starters (including quarterback Terrell Hackney) and will be helped on defense by senior defensive ends J.P. Pearson and Darryl Thompson and senior defensive tackle Zach Buchholz.

The Lancers will be challenged from the start this year, facing defending state champion Thomas Dale in their Sept. 10 opener. Despite the daunting first matchup, Hall says he can’t pinpoint a game that will be the most difficult for his squad, remarking that all of them will be challenging

Following the Thomas Dale game, the Lancers will face Matoaca before heading into their district schedule, where fans can hope to see a repeat of last season’s exciting matchup versus Cosby – a 54-53 overtime thriller in the Lancer’s favor – on Oct. 22.

The Lancers’ experience and talent make a top three finish in the district probable, but they will have to get past their Nov. 5 matchup against nine-time defending champs L.C. Bird, which went undefeated last season, to take home the crown.

Thomas Dale High School

Following his 2009 Group AAA, Division 6 state championship, former Thomas Dale head coach Vic Williams went out on top after 23 years with the Knights. He handed over the reigns to his longtime assistant, Kevin Tucker, and expectations are high for Tucker to continue the Knights’ winning ways. In 2009, Thomas Dale went 12-2 overall, 7-0 in the district, on their way to winning the Central District, the Central Region and ultimately the state title.

Dale will be a much younger team this season after graduating 33 seniors – a good chunk of the state title team – but Tucker says his players are ready to fill the cleats of their talented predecessors.

“We’re a lot younger of course, but many of our starters this year were our main backups last year, so they know the system and what to expect,” says Tucker. “So far they’ve been stepping up.”

The Knights have only four returning starters, and only one, junior cornerback Lorenzo Fields, on the defensive side. Senior star quarterback Demetrick Jackson, senior center Adam White and senior outside guard Sam Hartman will be returning on offense. The more experienced players will have to lead the team through a tough schedule, as the Knights open against talented Manchester on Sept. 10 and round out their first three games with Capital District powerhouse Varina and Dominion District dominator L.C. Bird before entering their own district schedule, where things won’t get much easier.

“The Central District is by far the most competitive in the region,” Tucker says. “We’re hoping we can gel early and gain a lot of experience from playing a tough early season schedule and then hopefully go on to win the district.”

While Tucker and his squad have their work cut out for them, don’t count the Knights out of another district title, and maybe even a strong showing in the Central Region. With only four returning starters and a new coach, it is too early to know just how good Thomas Dale will be, but they certainly have the potential for another strong season.

Cosby High School

In 2009, Cosby football experienced the best season of its program’s four-year history. Head coach Pete Mutascio, who has coached the Titans from the beginning, says he was proud of last year’s squad’s third-place finish in the Dominion District. Cosby finished with an impressive 7-3 overall record and a 6-2 district record. Unfortunately, as Mutascio points out, they enter their fifth season after graduating many members of last year’s team.

“We lost a lot of seniors,” he admits, “a total of 27. A lot of them started on both sides of the ball, which will be hard to replace. We’re going to be very young this season, and all of our games will be challenging, especially at the beginning of the season when we’re finding our footing.”

Mutascio will look to senior quarterback Matt Daugherty to lead the Titans on offense and senior linebacker Garrett Birnbaum to take charge on defense. However, junior upand comers Jainard Lambert, a wide receiver, and Jawuan Ferrell, a linebacker, should make up in talent what they lack in experience.

“We have some junior players who are already receiving attention from Division I programs,” says Mutascio. “They’ll be extremely helpful.”

Cosby faces Hopewell in its Sept. 10 season opener before diving into its district schedule. While L.C. Bird is the favorite to continue its reign at the top of the district, Cosby could finish as high as second place if things go its way on Friday nights. However, the team’s youth and inexperience combined with tough away games at L.C. Bird and rival Clover Hill could prove too much for the young Titans and place them in the middle of the pack.

Still, Mutascio says don’t count the Titans out of the title just yet.

“Of course [L.C.] Bird is the perennial favorite, and it’s well-deserved, but anything can happen on any given Friday.”

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