H.S. Football Preview: Colonels Look To Overcome Small Numbers
Posted: August 23, 2016
By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — The James Wood football team’s lowest point in an otherwise solid season in 2015 came on Oct. 23.
Without leading rusher Tyler Bishop (The Winchester Star Offensive Player of the Year) for the entire game and leading tackler Ryan Funkhouser for most of the game because of injuries, the Pioneers were outgained 498-85 in a 72-0 defeat.
This year, the Colonels (5-5, 1-3 Northwestern District last year) will have to make due without both players for the entire season, and they’ll have to do so with a varsity roster that features just 31 players.
On paper, it might be tough for James Wood to win at least five games for the third straight year, especially if the Colonels suffer the type of injuries they had last year. (Standout two-way lineman Isaac Schrantz also missed much of the Millbrook game with an injury, and the Colonels were without Bishop for much of a loss against Skyline and Funkhouser in a loss to Spring Mills, W.Va.)
But the Colonels’ strong chemistry and bond could help them come up big despite their small roster number.
James Wood senior Noah Sullivan said the Colonels have been getting together every Sunday over the last month, including a couple weekends at a lake house that included swimming and fishing.
"That’s really ideal for a small team," said Sullivan, whose team opens the season at home at 7 p.m. on Friday against Heritage. "It’s not too overwhelming, and you get a chance to talk to everyone.
"We have a smaller team this year, but we have guys who are showing commitment every day. They’re getting here early, staying late, working on what they need to work on. It’s really showing how much this team means to these guys."
James Wood senior quarterback Dade Carroll said the team is well aware of the cirumstances it faces.
"We know we don’t have numbers, so everyone’s going to have to play, and we’re going to have to trust every single person to get their job done," Carroll said.
The Colonels hope to get the job done in part by having some of their best players take on new positions. For example, Sullivan (44 tackles and four interceptions last year) is moving from free safety to middle linebacker.
Schrantz is moving from the offensive line — where he earned second team All-Conference 21 West honors last year — to fullback, and James Wood coach Mark McHale said he will be the Colonels’ primary ballcarrier this year.
The 6-foot Schrantz — who weighed 270 pounds last year — has dropped down to 210 pounds to prepare for his new role. Schrantz will be quicker with the lost weight, and McHale said he’ll still be plenty physical.
"He’s going to be our workhorse," McHale said. "We’ve got to be able to run the ball and control the clock, and I think we’ve got the right guy there to help us do that."
Other people who could get come carries for James Wood are seniors Ryan Rupp, Chris Lakin and Keegan DeHaven, and junior Tyler Arnold. Junior Mark Cisler will back up Schrantz.
"We’ve got depth in the backfield," McHale said.
The one problem with moving Schrantz to fullback is that an offensive line that didn’t have much experience to begin with no longer has one of its linchpins.
Right guard Dominic Revetta (5-10, 313) is James Wood’s only returning starter on the offensive line.
Sophomore Luke Roy (5-10, 194) will start at center, sophomore Kevin Martin (5-11, 245) wil start at right tackle, senior Damien Hale (5-10, 294) will start at left tackle and senior Justin Vernocy (5-10, 200) and junior Jordan Loy (5-9, 168) are competing for the starting left guard position.
"They’ve shown in practice that they’ve improved a lot, but there’s a big difference between practice and playing in scrimmages and games," McHale said. "Hopefully the scrimmages will get them ready [for the regular season]."
With Carroll (72 of 113 for 1,052 yards, 10 TDs and seven interceptions) back at quarterback, James Wood will have the opportunity to move the chains through the air, too.
Carroll no longer has his favorite target in Dillon Manuel — who caught 44 of his passes last year — but the tight end Sullivan hauled in 13 passes for 174 yards and one TD. Senior Sam Costin and junior Elijah Filbert will also play tight end.
Senior Ryan Bearer will start at wide receiver and junior Josh Kesner is also expected to see significant time.
On defense, McHale said he’s excited about what Sullivan can do at inside linebacker.
"For being a first-time guy in there you’d think he’d be a fish out of water in his first scrimmage," McHale said. "But he did the things he was coached to do. He made some mistakes, but was scraping when he was supposed to, he made some plays outside on the sweeps. And he’ll be a good pass defender because of his safety experience."
Rupp (40 tackles) will also play inside linebacker. The outside linebacker positions will feature Bearer and Lakin.
The defensive line will feature tackles Revetta (26 tackles) and Schrantz (39 tackles) as tackles and Filbert and Costin as ends.
In the secondary, Kesner and junior Jacob Whitacre are competing to play at free safety and Carroll, Arnold and junior Mike Zebarth are working at the corner positions.
On special teams, DeHaven returns as the team’s punter. Jacob Sortino, a transfer who moved from Newport News, will take over as the team’s placekicker this year.
Players like Bishop, Funkhouser and Manuel aren’t easy to replace, but McHale knows this group is going to give a great effort while creating its own identity.
"I really like the personality of the kids on this team," McHale said. "We’ve got good chemistry. If things go rough, I think they’re going to hang in there. If we can win those games that are close and can go either way, I think we can have a good season."
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