Football Preview 2017: Strasburg flush with fresh faces after first playoff win in 4 seasons

Strasburg head football coach Mark Roller gives instructions Thursday on a drill during opening day of football practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Strasburg High School’s football team picked up its first playoff victory in four seasons in 2016. This fall the Rams will try to build on that achievement with plenty of new faces gracing the roster.

Strasburg, which fell in the Region 2A East second round last year, returns only a handful of starters on each side of the football heading into the 2017 season and lost all five 2016 All-Bull Run District honorees to graduation. The Rams will turn to that group of returning veterans to help guide a crop of less experienced players and varsity newcomers as they settle into expanded roles.

Rams head coach Mark Roller said earlier this month that the upperclassmen have embraced the responsibility of taking the younger players “under their wing,” and pointed to the team’s work ethic as a positive bullet point a couple weeks into preseason camp.

“We don’t have a whole lot of experience coming back but they are a group that will work,” Roller said. “And so I think right now we’re just trying to get them to the point where they are confident within themselves so that they can actually do the job and the task at hand. I think they’re willing to work, and I think that’s probably the thing that sticks out the most is the eagerness to learn.”

One of the biggest question marks for the Rams (8-4 record in 2016) when they opened practice at the end of July was at starting quarterback. That position remained unsettled on Aug. 14, and Roller said he likely wouldn’t know who would take the snaps for Strasburg until the week of the opener against Stonewall Jackson on Aug. 25.

Two sophomores, Dylan Hamrick and Chase Hart, were vying for the chance to replace Ethan Duckworth – who threw for 1,142 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior in 2016 -in that starring role throughout the preseason. Hamrick (5-foot-9, 145 pounds) was the Rams’ junior varsity quarterback last season, while the 6-foot, 175-pound Hart spent last season at Sherando.

Whoever earns that starting spot will have a little experience around them at the skill positions. Austin Miller returns to the backfield after playing the role of workhorse back last season, when he carried 218 times for 948 yards and nine touchdowns, and senior tight end Grant Scott and junior receiver Stephen Kloosterman each started on a regular basis last season.

Junior fullback Tyjone Carter, who at 5-9, 260 pounds brings even more heft to a position held previously by bruiser Josh Pritchett, and junior receiver Brody Tomblin also bring a little experience to the offense.

However, Strasburg’s new QB will also be playing behind a revamped offensive line that returns just one starter, junior Hunter Miller. Roller said outside of senior Shawn Hamp the offensive line still held many unknowns ahead of the Rams’ Aug. 17 scrimmage at Moorefield (West Virginia), adding that the position group is “obviously a concern” with all of the inexperience.

Asked if that inexperience would impact the look and feel of Strasburg’s offense, Roller said “we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

“I mean if they do a really good job in the run game then we’ll continue to do that. I like to be balanced when it comes to that kind of thing. And if we can’t do that then we’ll look to throw it a little bit more than what we normally do,” said Roller, whose team averaged 262.8 yards of offense per game in 2016, one of the lowest marks among local teams.

“I don’t wanna give up on the run just yet,” he continued, “and who knows, we may not be able to pass block and we might have to run it. I don’t know. I think it’s just, you’ve gotta give those guys a little bit of time.”

On the other side of the trenches, the Rams lost all-state defensive lineman Hunter Riley to graduation and will rebuild the line with Scott and Cameron Harmon at the ends and Hamp and Hunter Miller (two sacks in 2016) at the tackles, Roller said.

Austin Miller (62 tackles, second on the team last season) and Carter (54 tackles) return to a linebacker corps that has to replace Pritchett, a four-year starter, and Zach Scott. Roller said Kloosterman, who played in the secondary last season, would likely see a lot of time at linebacker as well.

Tomblin (three interceptions) and senior Jacob Knapp (two interceptions) bring experience to a defensive backfield that will add sophomore Trevor Sager and junior Landen Elliott.

Strasburg’s defense allowed 289.2 yards per game in 2016, one of the area’s best marks.

“We haven’t really talked a whole lot about (goals for the 2017 season) but certainly we wanna be able to compete every Friday night and we wanna be able to do the best we can when we go out there,” Roller said. “If we can do that then we’ll be able to accomplish some things.”