Colonels Have New Faces, Veterans In Different Places
Posted: August 5, 2016
By WALT MOODY
WINCHESTER — At the end of Wednesday’s football practice at Kelican Stadium, the James Wood High players held the helmets aloft and chanted, "We are James Wood," three times in succession.
But given last season’s turnover and a number of old faces in new places, the Colonels’ fans may be questioning, "Who is James Wood?" at least initially this season.
Coach Mark McHale lost 13 seniors from last season’s 5-5 squad, including Winchester Star Offensive Player of the Year Tyler Bishop, the area’s leading receiver Dillon Manuel and the team’s leading tackler Ryan Funkhouser.
And many of the players who have returned are in different positions.
There’s obviously a lot of strangers in the offensive and defensive huddles.
"We lost a lot of key guys from last year," said senior Noah Sullivan, who has moved from free safety to linebacker on defense, while remaining at tight end on offense. "It’s all about rebuilding. We have a lot of new guys stepping up in different roles. They’ve asked me and some other players to change positions. Yeah, it feels like we’ve got a lot of young guys who are excited to come up and try it out."
McHale has 34 players out for the varsity, with 44 on the JV squad.
The varsity numbers aren’t huge by comparison to other 4A programs.
"You know what, they told me I can’t put more than 11 on the field," McHale said wryly.
But many of those 11 will be in new positions, like Sullivan. The senior has bulked up to 225 pounds this season for his move to middle linebacker.
Sullivan says the instincts are completely different from playing at safety.
"Last year as safety, you’re always told to think pass first," he said. "This year at linebacker, you’re told to think run first. At safety, your first step is back. At linebacker, you first step is forward. It’s going to be breaking some habits for me and changing some instincts, but I’m definitely able to adjust."
He replaces Funkhouser, who had 105 tackles despite missing time with injuries.
"Obviously it’s a lot of pressure to step up behind such a great player as Funkhouser," he said. "I definitely plan on reaching out to him. We are good pals and I definitely want to get some of his inside input and see what he has to say about the position because he played it with the best of them last year. I’m definitely excited with my new role."
Over on the offense side, the Colonels are looking to use a combination of players to replace Bishop, who rushed for 1,549 yards and 19 scores. Kyle DeHaven, Ryan Rupp, Chris Lakin and Tyler Arnold are in that mix right now.
The Colonels do return senior Dade Carroll at quarterback. Carroll passed for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, while completing 64 percent (72 of 113) of his tosses.
Carroll says he has improved in the offseason. "I feel like I’ve gotten faster," he said. "I feel like my arm has gotten a little stronger as well."
"I think he’s going to be a better runner than he was last year," McHale said. "He’s a threat running. He’s faster in the 40 and he’s benching good weight."
Carroll will have to pick a new favorite target this season. Manuel caught 44 passes for 687 yards and seven touchdowns last fall.
Who is Carroll going to throw to?
"Everyone," Carroll said. "Whoever is out there, I’m going to try to distribute the ball as much as I can. I’m going to have to throw to more people now."
There will also be three new starters on the offensive line.
McHale says he honestly has no idea how things will shake out this season. He’s enthusiastic about the squad, which has received a boost from Sam Costin, a member of the basketball team, and Mitchell Morris, a captain on the baseball team, who are playing varsity football for the first time.
"We’re stronger and we’re faster since I’ve been here, but were 50-50 young and experienced," McHale said.
The younger players have made an impression on the veterans.
"Usually when you see these kind of circumstances the team takes a step backwards, instead of forwards," Sullivan said. "But with these guys, they were taught well on JV."
"We’re giving a lot of people opportunities to see what they can do," said Carroll. "They’re really opening our eyes."
With so many people in different positions, McHale said the Colonels’ two scrimmages (Aug. 13 against Hampshire County and Aug. 19 at Musselman) are very important leading into the season opener at home against Heritage on Aug. 26.
"I think everyone has a dual role on this team," said Carroll, who is also playing cornerback.
McHale likes what he’s seen in the early practices.
"I don’t know what the verdict will be," he said of the season. "But I do know this — these guys will play hard and play the best we can."
And maybe that will earn some recognition with the fans.
"There are a lot of new faces, so we’ve definitely got to give them some reminders," Sullivan said. "If our hometown James Wood crowd shows up like they usually do, I don’t think we’ll have a problem with that. I think we’ll be alright."
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