New James Wood football coach puts premium on conditioning

By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI | The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — It takes time to build a program the way you want it, and first-year James Wood head football coach Ryan Morgan wants to make sure his players have the endurance to handle whatever is thrown at them on Friday nights this fall.

“Conditioning,” said James Wood senior two-way lineman Dominic Revetta when asked about Morgan’s points of emphasis this year. “It’s a lot more difficult, and there’s a lot more of it.”

The Colonels held their first official practice of the 2017 season with approximately 45 players competing in Monday’s morning and afternoon sessions. The other four local high schools — including Handley, Millbrook, Sherando and Clarke County — also practiced on their high school campuses for the first time on Monday.

In 2016, Morgan guided James Wood’s JV team to a 9-0 season. Now he’s tasked with trying to rebuild a Colonels varsity that went 2-8 in 2016, the final season of Mark McHale’s four-year tenure.

Part of that rebuild involves having his players’ bodies in top shape. Morgan brought in 2004 Handley graduate and former football player T.J. Clarke of the Virginia Army National Guard for a free military-style clinic on July 20 that placed a heavy emphasis on conditioning, just one of the things James Wood has done in the offseason to prepare for 2017.

“One of the things I think we’ve struggled with in the past is being ready for the first game and making sure we’re ready to go four quarters,” said Morgan, whose team has a particularly difficult challenge in this year’s opener on Aug. 25 at Sherando. “Sometimes we kind of drop off in the second half, and a lot of times, you play a game at the end of August, and it’s 90-some degrees. We want to be ready.

“We’re just challenging them and making them tougher. After they’re done conditioning, they have to come out here and practice some more. Hopefully, they’re a little bit tougher, and able to concentrate when they’re thirsty and cramping up. It’s a tough day, but you kind of challenge them and see who responds. It’s always fun to see who taps out and who keeps going strong.”

Senior defensive end and tight end Elijah Filbert said that on Monday morning the players rotated among five different stations where they did various conditioning drills for four minutes each, and Revetta said they finished off the morning with a series of sprints.

In addition to helping them get in better shape, Monday’s drills also demonstrated James Wood’s competitiveness. Revetta and Filbert said the players treat each other with respect, but younger and less experienced players aren’t being deferential when it comes to fighting for playing time.

“A lot of [the younger] players were stepping up for conditioning, pushing themselves and trying to push the [returning] varsity guys,” Filbert said.

“They’re really giving [the veterans] a run for their money in general, making themselves better and making us better,” said Revetta, the only player on this year’s James Wood team who made last year’s All-Conference 21 West team (second team for both offense and defense).

Morgan said James Wood has a lot of talented juniors and sophomores, many of whom played on the JV team last year, and he hopes the Colonels’ depth brings out the potential in everyone.

“I can’t ask the players to do anything more than give me their best,” Morgan said. “A player might not be the fastest guy in the area, or the biggest guy or the strongest guy in the area, but if they do the best that they can, than I’m happy with that. I just want to get the best out of each player, whether we have to yell at them, or encourage them, or just challenge them about what the standard is.

“Challenge them, and have them compete for jobs. Whether if it’s a freshman or a sophomore, if they’re better than a senior, than they’re going to play.”

For example, there are a number of people capable of playing the offensive skill positions of running back and quarterback.

Running back is headlined by 2016 leading rusher and sophomore William Crowder (75 carries, 368 yards, three touchdowns) and senior Tyler Arnold (12 carries, 98 yards, two TDs in a 26-0 win over Skyline), but Morgan mentioned five potential candidates to play.

Morgan is also looking at three candidates to start at quarterback — senior Mike Zebarth, who made one start last year as a result of an injury to the graduated Dade Carroll, senior Josh Kesner (a wide receiver last year), and sophomore Carson Hoberg, a transfer from Oregon who started on his JV team last year.

“They’re all pretty similar,” Morgan said. “They’re thin, reedy guys, but they can all run and they can all throw the ball pretty well. They’re athletic. It’s just a matter of who’s going to make plays the most.”

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