Football Preview 2017: Handley taking steps in Davis’ second season at the helm

Handley coach John Davis has players walk through their offense at a recent practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – When John Davis was hired as the new head coach of John Handley High School’s football team in March 2016, he had about six weeks to become acclimated with his new players and lay a new foundation for a rebuilding program before school let out.

Davis and the Judges didn’t have the benefit of a full spring of offseason workouts, and when preseason camp opened last August, the team was still frenetically installing its brand-new schemes. As Davis put it earlier this month, the Judges were “scrambling.”

This preseason has been different. There is a familiarity among players and coaches – Davis knows who fits best at which positions, and the players are no longer trying to learn the basics of their new schemes.

“It’s gotten to a point now as the head coach where I’m not correcting the little things as much and that’s when you know you’ve kind of started to take a turn, you started to turn the corner, take a step a bit,” said Davis, who led Handley to a 2-8 record in 2016 a year after the Judges suffered the program’s first winless season.

“That’s our motto this year, take a step because … we’re not trying to turn it all around in one night. … We took one step last year, let’s take another step this year. We wanna be workmanlike. We’re not good enough that we can skip any of the foundational steps. We’re just a workmanlike group.”

Handley returns seven starters on both sides of the ball, giving the Judges a foundation to build on a team that was outscored 346-166 in 10 games last season.

Offensively, the Judges will be experienced up front as seniors Bobby Teahan (a Howard University commit), Joey Mammano, Bryce McDole and Ian Ganey – all three-year starters – anchor the offensive line.

Jacob Parker is entering his third season as the Judges’ starting quarterback and has flourished in Handley’s pistol offense this offseason, Davis said.

Kevin Curry and Ra’Shaad Morris, who each started in the defensive secondary for the Judges last season, will make more of an impact on offense as Parker’s primary receiving targets.

Senior Christian Moten will be Handley’s starting running back after last season’s leading rusher, Michael Brown (748 yards, six touchdowns), opted to drop football this season in order to focus on his basketball career. Moten, who battled injuries for most of the season last year, Davis said, rushed for 250 yards over the final two games of 2016.

Davis said the offense, which he wants to be built around long, sustained drives, showed better ball security in the preseason and worked harder at getting stronger in the offseason.

“Technique-wise we were always pretty good, we just were not strong enough to hold up to our schedule,” Davis said. “… I think this offseason with the work they put in in the weight room, they’re starting to see the fruits of that labor now in practices.”

Defensively, Moten (five sacks in 2016) and senior Tyrese Dudley – who combined for 13 tackles for loss last season – return along the defensive line, and junior D’andre James (45 tackles in 2016) and sophomore Quinton Newman bring starting experience at linebacker.

An experienced secondary featuring Morris (72 tackles in 2016, second on team), Curry and senior Jorden Davenport (55 tackles, fourth on team) rounds out the Judges’ 4-2-5 defense.

Davis said this season’s defense would be one of the fastest units to take the field for Handley in recent years, but added that the Judges need to be better at making halftime adjustments.

Last season, Handley either led or trailed by 3 points or less at halftime in six of its 10 games, Davis said. The Judges allowed 41.8 points per game in their eight losses.

“We gave up the most points defensively in the third quarter, which means we got out-adjusted,” Davis said. “So those are the things that we need to fix and we’ve been harping on conditioning, and our kids know that.”

Cooper Dawson, a junior, is taking over the kicking and punting duties for Handley, Davis said. Dawson replaces all-state punter Aidan Marshall, who is now at Auburn University.

Handley opens the 2017 season today at Warren County.