POWHATAN – For as many new elements that Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Football has going into the 2019 season, there’s a matching level of familiarity.
Gary Brock has a new title as head football coach following the departure of Shawn Pickett. But he’s not a new face, as the veteran coach joined the team last year as the Knights’ offensive coordinator.
And after Pickett, Brock and Patrick Winterrowd had to teach the game of football pretty quickly to a Knights team that featured 14 seniors – several of whom hadn’t played varsity before – but ultimately succeeded together by assembling a 7-3 winning season in 2018, this year’s returners are familiar with how the team did things last year, and they’re not really changing up anything, Brock pointed out.
Because of that, the Knights have been able to go right into their offense; the players coming back now understand their single-wing offense – the team’s bread and butter last season – and they know that the single-wing formation, which they learned last year, is now their base.
“They know that’s what we come back to – that’s what we survive on,” Brock said Aug. 5. “As a result, right now if we play tomorrow, I believe we can all go out there and...put together the single wing and run it in a ballgame effectively.”
Of the 3,632 yards that last year’s Knights amassed on offense, a whopping 3,298 of that was gained through their dominant run game. They also scored 44 of their 49 total touchdowns on the ground.
But this year’s single-wing-based unit should receive a stronger complement from the passing game.
“I think we’re in a situation where we don’t have to line up and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to run this play, and we’re going to run the next time,’” Brock said. “I think we can go in there…and people are going to have to say, ‘What are they gonna do?’ I think we’re much better suited to that this year...
“It’s a different feel all the way around.”
Making catches in practice were receivers like 6-1 transfer Ben Newton (Richmond Christian), 6-1 transfer Dominic Falchi (Midlothian) and returner Ben Fleet, who received praise from Brock for the improvement he’s made at the position from last year to this year. Zander Nadeau, a 6-3 sophomore who as a split-end caught a team-leading four passes for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year, should once again figure into the receiving corps as a potential tight end this year.
Brock added that Ben Newton gives the Knights’ passing attack a little bit of pop as a potential home-run threat.
“I think any time he touches the ball, he might go,” Brock said. “We haven’t had that here in a while.”
Putting the ball in the spots where the receivers could get it was rising junior and starting quarterback Trevor Parker. Last season, the second team all-state player led the Knights’ relentless rushing attack with 17 touchdowns and a whopping 1,152 yards from the running back position.
“Last year he came in, and we knew he was a quarterback, but at the same time we knew he was a running back,” Brock said, “and we needed a running back last year.”
But now, Parker moves into the pocket following the graduation of senior Kemper Roudabush, and according to his head coach, he’s bringing to the position good vision, good knowledge of the game and good, quick feet.
While Brock would still love to have Parker in the RB position, he pointed out that “putting him back there at quarterback…is going to put the ball in his hands most of the time, and he’s definitely a run-pass threat.”
With the single-wing base, he’s expected to be far from alone in the backfield. This year’s running back staff is slated to feature Josh Decker, who last year as a backup totaled 88 yards and a touchdown across 24 carries. He’s gotten a little bit bigger, a little bit faster and smarter as far as the offense goes, his coach said. Falchi is also expected to factor into the run game, and 6-0, 240-pound Chase Musselman, who enjoyed a strong second-half of the 2018 season and rushed for 297 yards and 9 TDs over 51 carries, is expected to be a force from the fullback position.
“We didn’t use him that much at the beginning [of last year],” Brock said. “But at the end, people started really keying on the other backs, and we gave the ball to Chase, and every time I looked up, he was in the end zone. He knows what he’s doing…”
Nic Dawson will probably split time with Decker at the RB spot as both of them will play defense full-time.
The RBs have the potential to lead yet another dangerous multipronged attack on the ground, but the other half of any strong running game is a strong offensive line. This year’s unit is very young.
“We’re kind of going to go how they go,” Brock said. “It’s one of those things where we’ve got skill people, but we’ve got to open up the holes for them.”
After last year’s line tipped the scales with an average weight of roughly 270 pounds across the front, this year’s forward five will have three projected starters ranging from 175 pounds to 190.
But Brock said they’re coming along. They have a new line coach in John Milstead, and they have also some experience returning with 6-0, 265-pound senior Khadeis Battle (a part-time starter on last year’s offense) slated to start at guard this year along with 6-3, 245-pound transfer and junior Zach Miles (Richmond Christian). Tackles include freshman transfer David Mann (Benedictine) and sophomore Harrison Lee, who started for the Knights on defense last year. The projected starting center is Chase’s younger brother, sophomore Garrett Musselman.
“From an offensive standpoint, we feel good,” Brock said. “We’re just young up front - we’re going to have to come of age quick.”
Defense, he reiterated, should be this year’s team’s strong point. After struggling with a porous constitution last fall, the 2019 Knights have really been emphasizing the defensive and kicking/punting units because of the team’s relatively younger look on offense this year. Mann and Garrett Musselman are the projected interior linemen, Battle and Chase Musselman will likely anchor the ends of the defensive line, Dawson and Falchi are slated to start at the corners, Parker will play at the safety spot and Decker, Miles, Lee and Newton will help comprise a linebacker corps that Brock believes is going to be “the heart and soul of everything.”
“They’re very solid kids,” he said, “and – I’ve got to see what they can do in a game situation – but right now, I would put them against some of the better ones in the area as far as linebackers.”
There’s also some fluidity with the defensive unit, as the two-way players, including Falchi and Parker, can be interchanged in order to give them a brief respite.
Special teams should get a boost from senior, football newcomer and soccer team standout James Hawkins, who in practice showed he could consistently drill his trademark rocketing kicks through the uprights during field goal plays.
“We convinced him to come on out and thankfully he accepted,” Brock said of Hawkins. “We feel like, anytime we get inside the 30, he’s going to be a weapon.”
Hawkins’ strong leg gives his team a shot at points on the board on the drives that don’t culminate in trips to the end zone, and it could also give the defense a lot of field to work with, provided that his powerful shots down the field in soccer translate into strong punts on the gridiron.
Hawkins’ head soccer coach is Patrick Winterrowd, who is also the BSH football team’s defensive coordinator, and so far has impressed Brock and done a very good job according to the head coach.
“He’s a young guy that’s full of fire,” Brock said, “and I like that for a defensive coach.”
The Knights have been able to work on the little things that Brock noted are components of a good football team, like getting into and staying in good shape. For a team that Brock anticipates will feature a 23-man roster, conditioning has been a heavy point of emphasis in early August. They’re also looking to strengthen their depth so that more players can fill in.
This coming Friday on Aug. 16, they’ll not only get to play several different people on the field –they’ll also get to gauge where they stand before the regular season kicks off with a special home benefit game this coming weekend against Rappahannock County at 7 p.m.
The benefit – which will operate with standard game rules – is supporting Class of 2019 alum Sean McQueen, who all his life has endured having Fanconi Anemia – a rare disease that prevents bone marrow from making enough new blood cells for the body to work properly.
“Sean’s a good kid and it’s a great cause,” Brock said. “I’m very thankful that we’ll be able to play this benefit game to support all the research and everything else and help out with Sean.”
The following week, the Knights will kick off regular season play at home against Broadwater Academy on Friday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.