August 29, 2001

Peninsula District Preview

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:

1. Phoebus
2. (tie) Heritage, Warwick, Hampton
3. Bethel
4. Kecoughtan
5. Menchville
6. Woodside
7. Denbigh
8. Gloucester

Phoebus (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 Phoebus.

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 secondary.

Outlook: Based 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.

 

Heritage (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.

Outlook: 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.

Johnson, Michael

Michael Johnson Hopes To Lead Heritage To Another State Title

 

Warwick (8-2, 7-2)

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 fantastic touch. 

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.

Outlook: 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.

Vick, Marcus

Marcus Vick Will Establish His Own Identity in 2001

 

Hampton (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 Hampton’s teams.

Outlook: With 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 (4-6, 3-6)

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.

Outlook: Bethel 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.

Kecoughtan (4-6, 4-5)

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.

Outlook: Improved offensive production is important, but a new and improved attitude should help the Warriors remain competitive in the middle of the district.

Menchville (1-9, 1-8)

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 better teams.

Outlook: Menchville must get better pass protection and more production from its QB to come away with a 3-to-5-win season.

Woodside (0-10, 0-9)

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.

Outlook: An 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.

Denbigh (2-8, 2-7)

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.

Gloucester (5-5, 5-4)

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.

Outlook: With 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. 

Synopsis

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.

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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 mbmich99@aol.com

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