By Dennis Atwood -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- The play still stands out in Carl St. Amand's mind.
It was third-and-four against St. John's, and the Massanutten Military Academy cornerback picked off a pass at the 40-yard line that swung the momentum in the Colonels' favor. MMA ended up winning that game due in large part to the interception.
"The pass was over the middle and I returned it 20 yards to set up our eventual winning field goal," said St. Amand, a 5-foot-8, 155-pound defensive back. "It was a spread formation, two wide receivers to the left and two to the right. A wide receiver ran a post route and I was reading the quarterback and anticipated the pass and it fell right into my hands."
Football runs in St. Amand's family.
"I have an older brother, John, who [played] linebacker at Delaware State," St. Amand said. "During the summers, I've gone over to the Delaware State campus and practiced with the players. So I kinda grew up with college players."
The Colonels have seven returning players, all seniors: Josh Barquero, Luke Beebout, Kyle Green, Byars Holland, Richard Magnotti, Stele Pompilio and Chris Riker.
"The values and ethics of our military school situation give our kids strong leadership, perseverance and teamwork factors and can make up, somewhat, for skills shortages," MMA's first-year head coach Todd Baldwin said.
"If we don't play together as a team, then we can't go forward," he added. "If we don't practice as a team, if we don't eat as a team, if we don't get the whole team concept down, we won't make it. Because it's not about one player, or two players, it's about 11 guys on the field pushing forward together. If we don't choose to practice as a team and hustle as a team, we just can't go anywhere."
MMA has about 90 male cadets in grades 9-12, a small pool for player candidates. There are eight returning players on what looks to be a 30-player roster. Off-setting the small number somewhat is the academic requirement for participation in general fitness activities or on an interscholastic sports team every semester.
"I think we're fairly well balanced on offense and defense -- obviously we're having a couple of kids go both ways," Baldwin said. "We would like to play as many kids as we possibly can who are ready for the field of competition from a pure conditioning standpoint. Some of them you just can't ask to play 80 snaps a game, because they get too tired."
Last year's 1-9 record provides plenty of opportunities for improvement as Baldwin and new assistant Johnny Burnett drill the squad into shape for the 2009 campaign.
"Right now we're really concentrating on our offense and defense, to really get that stuff in as soon as we can, but we're also still looking for some kicking specialists. We hope to find some good kickers because it always helps to get those points and good field position."
Baldwin acknowledged that, with a new coaching staff and an almost entirely new roster, he's taken a deliberate approach to make sure the program is built from the ground up.
"Being a new coach with only a few returners, we want to get our foundation set with basics at the beginning, so that, as the season goes on, we can add more pieces of the house," he said. "Only the foundation of a house is built in the first few days. How we go from there during the season will determine how we add the sections to complete the house."