Previews: High school football returns Feb. 26

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MATOACA
2020 record: 5-5

Matoaca finished the season 5-5, improving again in Jay Parker’s second year as head coach. Narrowly missing the playoffs, a talented group of seniors along with a good influx of youth has the potential to be one of the best Matoaca teams in recent memory.

Seniors such as Nathan Dozier, Brayden Spade, Marcus Dreher, Juleon Pointer, Jimmy Hayden, Brendan Gray, and Shaun Kindred all moved on to the college level, and their contributions will be missed.
“In 2019, we definitely took steps forward as a program,” said Parker. “We played a lot of younger guys and battled through some tough injuries. We were a few plays away from winning eight or nine games.”
Matoaca will have high expectations to go with a team full of hard workers, in their coach’s words.

Quarterback: Senior Devin Bailey and sophomore David Field represent two different styles, Bailey is a dual threat and Field more of a pocket passer. Both could see time this year.

Running backs: Two big backs – juniors Cameron Johnson and Quentin Johnson –figure to see the bulk of the carries here, and will be expected to carry a big load.

Wide receivers: Seniors and East Carolina commits Troy Lewis and Jacob Coleman highlight an extremely experienced group. Jordan Robinson, who’s gained the attention of a few colleges himself, grabs attention at the position as well. This unit could be one of the best receiving corps in the state.

Offensive line: Akhari Haggard leads a relatively young unit that will include Morice Fulton, Krishaun Harper, Keyshawn Burgos, and Jaedin Lee. Haggard has received college offers, and interest from schools in all three divisions and a strong 2021 showing would ice the cake for the recruit.

Defensive line: Haggard and Burgos will do double duty on both sides of the ball, joined by senior Ben White and junior Quentin Johnson. The Warrior’s line will be a good mix of big, strong, and athletic. Burgos represents another potential big-time college prospect for Matoaca.

Linebackers: Junior Michael Shank will lead a young but smart crew. Look for Gavin Hall and Cameron Johnson to make plays and key contributions at the second level of the defense. Over the past couple of seasons, linebacker has been a strength of the team. This trio will look to replace the defensive production of Juleon Pointer (Virginia State).

Defensive backs: This, too, will be an experienced and talented unit. Seniors Trey Wills, along with Robinson, Bailey and Lewis will get reps here. Junior Jacob Louden will rotate in and get significant playing time as well.  The group is ultra athletic and features true athletes.

Special teams: Kickers Aidan Redmon and Ian Barber, along with punter Jacob Coleman, comprise what Parker speculated may be the strongest unit on the team.

THOMAS DALE
2020 record: 9-4

Thomas Dale fell to Oscar Smith 29-7 in the Region 6A championship game last year, but got hot at the right time to reach that point. That five game winning streak started with a memorable game in which DeAngelo Gray caught a tipped hail mary pass to sink Matoaca 19-14.

Talented seniors such as Chris Tyree (Notre Dame) and Jasiah Williams (Richmond) along with Berk Snow, T.J. Minter, Justin Tate, Phillip Allen, Antonio Goins, Crishaun Saunders, Zach Jones, and Darius Sterling have also moved onto the next level.

“It will be a youth movement in 2021,” said Thomas Dale coach Kevin Tucker. “Over the past two years we’ve graduated about 55 guys, so it will be up to the remaining seniors to lead a group of fresh faces into battle.

Quarterback: It’s a three-way underclassman battle for signal caller among Ethan Hamill, C.J. Milazzo, and Ethan Minter. Hamill is a more traditional passer, while Milazzo and Minter are dual-threat type quarterbacks.

Running backs: Jordan Branch, a junior who got substantial playing time when Tyree was out, picked up 518 yards and seven touchdowns and should be a key factor in the backfield. Dewayne Calloway and Brandon Rose will provide depth. Jonathan Martinez, who has multiple college offers, will move from tight end to fullback this year.

Wide Receivers: Listed at wide out, Gray is a playmaker. He racked up 1763 all-purpose yards and 14 TDs as a senior, and he could break Tyree’s career mark of 52 touchdowns. Donovan Woods is a great athlete who started eight games last season. VMI commit Shamus Jones will get time here as well as at linebacker. Other players to watch include Kyon Turner, Erroll Washington, and twins Nick Tyree and John Tyree.

Offensive line: An experienced unit from right to left is Tyler Leinberger, Greg Mitchell, Rogelio Aguirre, Zeke Amissah, and Jaden Baskerville. The line averages 6-1 and 283 pounds per player.

Defensive line: Jaleel Dowd, Jerry Newby, Hazon Ellis, and K.J. Jones are the crew that will replace four players who moved up to the college level. Tucker said their hard offseason work should make that task easier.

Linebackers: Brandon Cammarasana and Brad Ford will hold down the inside linebacker spots. All-State performer Shamus Jones returns to man the outside with Ahmari Smalls, Landon Aslin or Milazzo.

Defensive backs: DeAngelo Gray returns to anchor the unit at cornerback, while the other three positions are up for grabs. Sean Crawford, Devin Herring, and Jermaine Coston are among the many vying for a spot.

Special Teams: Jimmy Lepore will be the team’s placekicker, while Martinez returns as an all-state punter, averaging nearly 40 years a boot in 2019.

The six-game 2021 season kicks off Feb. 26 at Petersburg.

L.C. Bird and Meadowbrook season previews will be published Feb. 24.

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