Peninsula District Preview-
Changing of the Guard?
In 2000, a Peninsula District team won a state
championship. That’s nothing new. But for the first time since 1992, that high
school team wasn’t Hampton. Heritage High went 14-0, including two wins over
Hampton, en route to the title. Did the Hurricanes’ emphatic trouncing of the
Crabbers signify the end of dominance for coach Mike Smith’s team? Maybe,
maybe not. That is just one of many unanswered questions as the 2001 season
nears its start.
Another popular question is: will another team from the
Peninsula win a state title in 2001? The answer is quite possibly, but figuring
out which one should be a chore.
Here is a look at how the Peninsula District is shaping up
as the season starts, along with predicted order of finish based on input from
local media and the coaches themselves:
Heritage, Warwick, Hampton
(7-3, 6-3 in 2000)
Coach Bill Dee returns most of his starters from 2000.
Leading the way is a strong, physical offensive line. Center Alan Pavlik (5-10,
23), tackle Micah Littlejohn (6-3, 230), tight end Shadeed Harris (6-4, 255) and
Floyd Braxton (6-0, 280) are all big, experienced and strong. Pavlik was a
first-team all-district performer at center, and Harris was second-team as a
tight end. He is a big target for returning quarterback Ronnie Hendricks (6-2,
180), who split time much of the year with Leon Mizelle, now a freshman
defensive back at JMU. By the end of the year, Hendricks saw more and more of
the snaps as he got more comfortable under center. Dee expects to throw more
this year, as Hendricks proved to be a pretty accurate passer last year. Harris
figures in there, as does speedy junior Phillip Brown.
But make no mistake about it: Phoebus is still a
run-oriented team. With 5-8, 160-pound senior tailback Travis McCright (1,126
yards and 17 TD in 2000) back, along with big junior fullback Xavier Adibi (6-3,
210), the Phantoms are physical and talented in the running game and will go
right at opposing defenses. With the shifty, cat-quick McCright and hard-nosed
Adibi running behind a tough line, defenses must key in on the run to stop
Adibi is also a budding star at defensive end, the same
position at which his older brother Nathaniel is also turning heads at Virginia
Tech. Harris, Pavlik and Braxton also play on the defensive line.
One spot of uncertainty for the Phantoms heading into 2001
is at linebacker, as second-team all-district performers Maury Pauling and Eric
Edmonds have graduated. Jeremy Blunt showed promise as an athletic defender last
year, and could be a force as an outside pass-rushing at LB. The Phantoms will
miss Mizelle and his fantastic cover skills on defense, though D.J. Parker (6-2,
160), Brown, Marlin Ellis (5-10, 190) and McCright are good athletes in the
on talent and depth of returning starters, Phoebus gets the nod as the preseason
No.1 in the district. With Dee at the helm, Phoebus is always a tough, physical
team that can control the game in the trenches. With the returning players at
those positions, as well as the lone intact offensive backfield returning among
the top contenders, Phoebus appears to be the team to beat at the outset.
(14-0, 10-0, won state Group AAA Division 5 title)
Based on team speed, Heritage is hard to bet against. With
the fast, slippery senior Michael Johnson back after rushing for more than 2,000
yards total last year, Heritage should be able to move the chains again. The
line returns but one starter, center Sean Atwood (6-1, 265, second-team
all-district in 2000), but the ‘Canes still have plenty of size up front.
LaMonte Wiggins (6-4, 280), Anthony Dabney (6-3, 300) and Sam Clore (6-3, 268)
join Atwood to form the foundation for a beefy line, but the question is whether
or not the new faces can block as well as the likes of the departed Johnnie
Burke. Quarterback Jayson Cooke is also gone, but the athletic Bruce Royal
(5-11, 165) takes over behind Atwood. Royal is a better athlete than Cooke, so
the option looms as a dangerous weapon for opposing defenses to face. Whether
Royal will be as adequate a passer as Cooke was remains to be seen. If he is,
district sprint champion Quentin Bowens and speedy tight end Rudolph Foye loom
as likely targets.
The Heritage defense, which dominated opponents last year,
should once again be strong. End Darryl Blackstock, the district player of the
year, is gone along with his 26 sacks. But Foye is back after notching 23 sacks
opposite Blackstock and has the capability to be the district’s dominating
defender in his own right. He will continue Heritage’s tradition of speed off
the edge on defense.
Defensive back Raymond Stith is also a stud. Dion
Witherspoon should prove to be a talented linebacker, but the losses of
Blackstock, LB Corey Rouser and DB Larry Davis will be felt.
Heritage will once again be very quick and very fast, but whether it
can duplicate last year’s domination is up in the air. The offense will
put up lots of points, but Royal and co. must find an adequate passing
game to keep opponents honest. The ‘Canes defense can’t help but have
a drop off after notching seven shutouts last year, but this unit will
still be tough.
Michael Johnson Hopes To Lead Heritage
To Another State Title
The Raiders has perhaps the most dangerous offense in the
district thanks to solid skill position players. Of course, QB Marcus Vick (6-0,
180) leads the way after accounting for 30 touchdowns and more than 2,500 yards
of total offense last year. Expect him to be a better passer over last year,
when he threw for more than 1,900 yards and 19 TD. He attended summer camps at
U.Va. and Maryland, and according to coach Tommy Reamon, he is a more complete
QB at this stage than was Michael. Marcus, too, throws a nice deep ball and has
Vick’s top receiver should be Brenden Hill, who moves to
WR from TE. As a TE, he created mismatches because of his speed (around 4.6 to
4.7 in the 40-yard dash) in the middle of the field. Now, expect him to cause
mismatches with his size (6-3, 196) on the outside. Juniors Larry Taylor (6-1,
180) and Carlos Wyche (5-10, 170) figure to be capable long-ball threats. Lonnie
Starks (5-10, 175), who saw some action as a pass-rushing LB last year, should
be a fine RB with his speed and quickness.
As usual, a big question mark for the Raiders is offensive
line. Tackle Nathaniel Manning (6-4, 280) a Division I-A prospect, returns, as
does solid interior lineman Josh Mangana (6-1, 270). Jerrod Peay also lends size
to the position, but depth will be a huge factor.
The defense, led by Vick and college prospect Andrew
Henderson (5-10, 180) in the secondary, should be quicker than prior years. The
linebackers, led by Deon Trotter (6-3, 185), are athletic and aggressive, but a
replacement must be found for stud Melvin Massey, now a freshman LB at U.Va. The
interior defensive line is a key, where depth and consistency must emerge. The
ends, led by Scorpio Brown (6-2, 190), should be quick, but the line in general
must learn to stop the run.
Warwick has the capability to make a deep run into the playoffs, but it
depends on Vick’s health, which will depend on the performance of the
line. If the Raiders’ offensive front takes shape, they cold make a run
at the district title and could be a dangerous team in the postseason.
Marcus Vick Will Establish His Own Identity
(10-2, 9-1, lost 41-0 to Heritage in Eastern Region finals)
The Crabbers will always be
athletic and well-coached, but for the first time in recent memory there are not
returning stars on this team. The closest thing is big lineman Steven Williams,
who should use his 300-plus-pound frame to his advantage on both sides of the
line. But QB/WR Carlos Campbell, RB Joe Smith and Mack Jones and WR Derrick
Fenner are gone, leaving sizeable shoes to fill. Alvin Banks (5-11, 205) and
Stephen Wyatt should be solid runners, while Darrlyn Fenner showed game-breaking
ability in mop-up time last season.
But who will be the quarterback? Campbell was a capable
athletic signal-caller, but his best position was WR. Even as a new starter at
QB last year, Campbell was solid, but now an inexperienced player will have to
step up. That may well be Will Jennings.
The defense will again be sturdy, as Travis Crayton (6-3,
195 DL), Larry Callis (5-10, 187 LB) and Banks (DB) form a good foundation. But
depth must emerge, as well as a pass-rushing threat that Hampton usually has.
But the fate of this team may lie in the hands of Jennings,
or whomever starts at QB. The offensive line should be solid, and there should
be enough capable runners, but offensive balance has always been a key to
an athletic and talented base of players along with Smith and great assistants
such as Alvis Mann and Danny Mitchell, the Crabbers will never fall far. But
Hampton can expect four to five close games this year, and need to establish a
reliable quarterback to come out on top in the majority of those.
Bethel may well be the wildcard in the district this year.
QB/DB Jimmy Williams (6-3, 200), a top college prospect, transferred from
Hampton to coach Tracey Parker’s squad. While he hasn’t had much playing
time at QB, he is athletic and heady. The star returning player on the offense,
though, is senior Ananias Boyd (5-10, 180). He sustained an ankle injury last
year that slowed him down, but when healthy, he is one of the tougher backs in
the district. He has a good combination of speed and elusiveness, and should
break the 1,000-yard mark this year if he stays injury-free. Kenny Clarke (5-10,
180) emerged as a capable runner and receiver out of the backfield, and he also
made second-team all-district as a kick returner last season. He is also an
elusive, tough runner, and forms a nice tandem with Boyd. James Watterton (6-4,
275) and Anthony Adams (6-3, 255) return on the line for Bethel, which seemingly
never lacks for big lineman. Senior Willis Overton (6-3, 225) is a good blocker
and good receiver at tight end.
The key player on defense is Justin Wood, a tough 210-pound
linebacker. Chris Ellis (6-4, 235) and Jonas Watson (6-2, 220, second-team
all-district in 2000) return to the defensive line.
will be strong based on returners alone, but how good they may be will depend on
Williams’ progress at QB. A solid defense should help support Williams as he
learns the ropes, while Boyd and Clarke will be tough to stop. Bethel also is
one of the few Division 6 teams in the district, making its season-opening game
at Western Branch vital. A win there and a strong showing in the district may
well help Bethel land a playoff berth.
The biggest impact newcomer for the Warriors may well be
their new coach. Tommy Austin takes over after stints at Isle of Wight Academy,
Windsor and Tidewater Academy. Word is the attitude surrounding the KHS program
has improved, and the Warriors have some solid returners. Those are led by
quarterback Terrance Thompson (6-0, 195) and running backs Emmanuel Anderson
(5-8, 175) and Justin Green (5-6, 150), who form the makings of a solid ground
game. Corey C. Davis (6-5, 320) and Corey D. Davis (6-3, 290) are two big
two-way lineman. Thompson and Anderson also play LB for a unit that played well
at times last year. Ed Ross (6-2, 230) is also talented, and is an important
player at tight end and defensive end.
The key to improving last year’s record is finding more
offense. A passing game was almost non-existent last season, and the team scored
just 61 points for the year. With the Davises, Ross and Tommy Hammond (6-0, 215
LB/OT) back and more experienced, the line should be better. The Warriors found
the going tough on offense last year, especially against the top teams in the
district. Another game-breaker or two would certainly help.
offensive production is important, but a new and improved attitude should help
the Warriors remain competitive in the middle of the district.
The Monarchs prove that it is possible to be optimistic
after a season where the lone win was against district cellar-dweller Woodside.
One reason for hope is the return of running back Brandon Washington (5-9, 155),
who ran for more than 800 yards and made second-team all-district despite
Menchville’s inept passing game. The line, led by M.T. Yari Robinson (6-1,
280) and Tobias Bolden (6-0, 220), had its moments in the running game, but
provided no time for then-QB Pete Kubesh to throw. When he did, he was often
rushed, and threw 21 interceptions. No matter who the signal-caller is, that
number cannot be duplicated.
Dewayvon Clanton (6-1, 235) is a key returner, as well, as
he will see time on offense as well as at LB. Eight starters, many of whom go
both ways, return, and are determined to improve on last season’s
difficulties. More experienced and a little more talented, Menchville should
emerge from the bottom of the district and be more competitive against the
must get better pass protection and more production from its QB to come away
with a 3-to-5-win season.
The Wolverines should also be improved, which shouldn’t
be hard to do after a dismal season. The key returners to Woodside’s Wing-T
offense are fullback Maguell Davis (6-2, 210) and Darrell Pierce (5-10, 170),
who both showed flashes of tackle-breaking ability. The Wolverines rarely pass,
and opposing defenses focused on (and had success in) stopping the running game
regardless of what wrinkles coach Danny Dodson added. Pierce and Davis are solid
runners if provided with room to maneuver. Chris Sellers (6-3, 265) made
second-team all-district last season on the offensive line, but the offensive
front needs more like him to move the ball. Billy Conides (5-11, 190) returns at
QB, but Woodside is not known as a team that passes much. Conides does have
decent arm strength, though.
Tyrone Pettaway (6-4, 195) is a solid player at LB/TE and
will help provide experience and leadership to the Wolverines. Woodside returns
17 starters in all, but is still a little short on speed and talent to challenge
the top teams in the district.
improved season over last year can be expected, however. There is experience and
talent with the likes of Davis and Pierce, but Woodside could use some more
speed at the skill positions.
The Patriots struggled offensively last year, and were only
competitive in one of their losses (a 16-8 loss to Kecoughtan). Antoine Bethea
(6-0, 175) is a good player, making second-team all-district at defensive back
in 2000. Derek Washington (5-9, 155) showed promise at RB, and Denbigh needs
more of that promise to come through in 2001. OL Sam Kirkland (6-1, 280) is also
a solid performer, but whom he will block for is yet to be determined. Kierren
Lovick was a capable, strong-armed QB, but he graduated. Even though he was
athletic and strong, the Patriots still lacked a passing game in 2000. Like
Woodside and Menchville, with no obvious passing threat, opponents keyed in on
stopping the Denbigh running game.
Outlook: In a
tough district where many of last year’s lower-division teams have improved,
the Patriots figure to struggle.
For the school’s past, Gloucester had a break-through
year in 2000. The Dukes were a break or two away from making the Division 6
playoffs, but most of that team is gone. Gloucester was hit especially hard by
losses of skill position players. QB Ben Lawrence, RB De’Von Taliaferro and
WRs Shawn Jackson and Joey Helbig highlighted a very competent offense that
could move the ball. Marquis Washington (6-1, 175), who ran for more than 500
yards last year, is back, but he is the only skill position player returning who
was relied on last year.
Justin Fritzius (6-0, 263), Chucky Amos (6-1, 240) and
Steven Williams (6-3, 240) are all two-way starters on the offensive and
defensive. Depth and quickness are concerns for this team, while replacing the
district’s second-best receiving corps and a solid multiple-year starter at QB
are bigger concerns.
so much of its talented offense gone, Gloucester will likely struggle in 2001,
especially considering the depth in the Peninsula District. The losses of Helbig,
Lawrence and Jackson loom as big obstacles for this team.
This year the district is as deep and talented among the
top teams as it’s been in recent years. Any one of the top four or five teams
can honestly hope for a district title. Sept. 14 is a huge date, as Warwick
plays host to Phoebus and Heritage visits Hampton. Non-district play, especially
considering the VHSL power rating system, is also important. Phoebus (at Norcom)
and Heritage (at Lake Taylor) have the most difficult non-district games among
the top teams. Don’t be surprised if 2001 is a repeat of 1999, when three
teams (Phoebus, Heritage and Hampton) tied for first place at 9-1. This year’s
district champ could have one or maybe even two losses.
About the author of this article:
Matt is a regular contributor to Virginiapreps and works
part-time for the Daily Press in Newport News and as sports editor for the Old
Dominion student newspaper, the Mace & Crown. He can be reached at
Catch all the VirginiaPreps.com
district previews, rankings, player lists, and more at the Football