Monday, August 18, 2008

Hawks pleased with performance

By Tim Tassa — Daily Staff Writer

There were fumbled snaps; an ample number for head coach Heath Gilbert in his single-wing, shotgun-heavy spread offense — a facet he chastised.

Pass protection was at times dicey in the Hawks' first action against a foe wearing a different shade of blue uniforms and disparate helmets.

But in its scrimmage against Clarke County on Thursday, Skyline proved that — like last season — it has the potential to play quickly and score fast.

Long, crafty runs by four back and backup quarterback Kieren Caison validated the team's speed, and the arm and accuracy of quarterback Nathaniel White was a possible foreshadowing of a future threat in the passing game.

"I really think our skill-level kids are as good as anybody in our league, it's just a matter of us being able to pass protect and give them time," Gilbert said following the scrimmage.

"Kieren stepped right in — he can do a lot of things for us, I think he's an all-district corner and you saw what he can do out there with the ball in his hands. He's an explosive kid; he has great lateral movement, so I look for him [to have] a pretty good season."

Caison scored the Hawks' first touchdown, intercepting a deep pass from Clarke County starter Zach Shiley, and then baffling would-be tacklers on his way to six points.

He added a rushing touchdown during situational drills on an exciting run out of the backfield, and lofted a touchdown on the team's next possession.

"Just get out, get our blocks, get up through the holes and try to make something happen," Caison said of his play-making ability.

"I just try to use my speed; I'm not that big so I just try to get what I get."

Skyline was plagued by four poor snaps over its first 10 plays — each team's offense was allotted 10 plays regardless of down and yardage over four possessions each, then switched to a live format — but managed a pair of touchdown passes during its third series.

White found receiver Andrew Thorne on a bubble screen that went the distance down the right sideline, and connected with receiver Terrell Mathews three plays later on a deep post over a chorus of defenders and receivers.

"We're just working together; we're just going to need to work on some stuff," said White, who showed comfort rolling out and throwing on the run.

"The backs are doing pretty good by switching out."

MAKING PROGRESS: It wasn't until the scrimmage's live-game portion against the Skyline defense, featuring downs and yardage, that the Clarke County offense began executing consistently.

Zach Shiley, who's entrenched in a battle for starting quarterback honors with Vernon Mathews and Grant Shaw, worked with the first team Thursday, leading back-to-back scoring drives on the Eagles' final two possessions.

Clarke County was methodical in that span, using short passes and quarterback options out of the shotgun and converting short third-down and fourth-down plays.

"I think we have a lot to work on; Skyline's a very good team, they're very athletic, they're probably faster than we were today. But we did some good things," Clarke County head coach Chris Parker said.

"I was proud of our guys when we went to down and distance, we actually did better. We didn't give up, we kept plugging and when we scored there we were going on all cylinders and I was happy about that."

Though Clarke County lacked the big plays executed by their Front Royal counterparts, their effort on offense, which included modest gains on the ground and a steady dose of slant and out routes directed towards Shaw, produced a pair of goal-line touchdowns.

Sam Shiley raced in for the team's second score out of the "gun."

"We did some good things and I'm sure the film is going to show that," Parker said.

"To me it's a practice, that's not taking anything away from Skyline, they're very good — well coached. But the eye in the sky is going to tell us."

The Eagles were without last season's leading tackler and running back, Jeremy Rhoads, who suffered a broken hand earlier in camp.

Parker said he didn't know if Rhoads would be back for the opener against James Wood on Aug. 29.

BIGGER IS BETTER: When asked the average weight of last season's offensive line, head coach Tony Tallent earlier this season joked "125 pounds."

"All in jest, obviously," he added.

But as his first year at the helm of Warren County's football program concluded on Aug. 1 with the issuing of equipment, Tallent was able to state his line's size as close to 230 pounds this year.
"People ask what the difference is: last year we were playing freshmen and sophomores, this year we're playing with sophomores, a few more juniors and seniors that have come out," Tallent said.

"We feel that our weight program has made our kids stronger, that's thanks to our administration for putting in classes where we can get these kids stronger."

A year hasn't made just a difference in size, but overall numbers, as well. Tallent said there are 66 total players spanning the varsity and eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade teams, compared to just 50 last year. And the Wildcats boast 17 seniors to last year's five (they added five last season after camp).

In addition, during the team's picture day on Wednesday, Tallent had difficulty recalling every player in the mix at the tailback position; a good problem to have, he said.

"Last year," Tallent said, "I could've named everyone of them we had in the first 30 seconds."

Tallent noted Austin Schwarz as the team's quarterback, with Marty Haley, Gage Steele and Damien Caison manning the running back duties, thus far.

He praised the hard work of the offensive line, particularly tackle Justin Ernst, guard Cameron Stewart and center A.J. Lockhart.

Defensively, Warren County keeps its entire secondary from last season intact, with Japeth Chunn and Sean Newman on the outside and James Baude the free safety.

NEXT IN LINE: While Colton Koontz, Dylan Dawson and Jordan Laughlin all vie to replace Hunter Stout's carries for Stonewall Jackson, a less obvious but equally important change will have to be made on the offensive line. Tackle Nate Beall was the man paving the way for Stonewall's most successful runs last season, but has since graduated.

"He was the go-to guy when we needed a touchdown," junior quarterback Dylan Dawson said. We put the ball behind him. I believe now we're going to have it more spread out. We can run both ways. We could last year, but everybody knew when it came down to crunch time, we were going to run behind Nate Beall."

Dacota Grady, listed on last year's roster at 6-foot-2, 197 pounds, is nursing a groin injury, but will likely take over Beall's tackle spot next to senior guard Lonnie Phillips.

"He's a fairly decent athlete, so it's a good start," Stonewall coach Dick Krol said. "He'll not replace Nate, but with him and Phillips next to each other, they can be a good tandem for us."

Dawson and Krol both mentioned that the Generals would be a small team this season, and losing Beall certainly contributes to that. Krol said that the few players of superior size he does have are not as motivated as his smaller ones, and therefore unlikely to contribute.

"They're going to end up sitting on the bench, and that looks sort of bad when you've got a 250-pound kid sitting on the bench and you've got a 140-pound tackle playing for you," Krol said. "But that's exactly how it's going to look like."

Krol added that his team doesn't appear to have a "beast" this year, someone who possesses a nasty streak and is also physically imposing.

"I'll be honest with you, I don't know that we have a beast," he said. "Dawson, he's as close to one, but he's not a beast — he's too nice a kid."

Players who've fit that role included running back Aaron Carter last year and Richard Long, a linebacker and running back, before him.

"Richard was a nice guy, but he was a beast when he got on the football field," Krol said. "Which is fine with me."

Long, now on scholarship at Appalachian State after joining the team as a preferred walk-on as a freshman a year ago, is a second-team linebacker for the three-time defending national champion Mountaineers.
The Northern Virginia Daily 152 N. Holliday St., Strasburg, Va. 22657
Skyline High School 151 Skyline Vista Front Royal, VA 22630

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