BREAKING DOWN THE EAGLES
League: Group A Bull Run District
Offense/Defense: Split Wing, 50
Key returnees: RB/DB Grant Shaw, QB/DB Drew Paice, TE/DE Levi Hagerdon, OL/DL Logan Large
Key losses: QB/DB Zach Shiley, RB/DB Sam Shiley, OL/DL Damian Tomblin, RB/LB Jeremy Rhoads, TE/LB Billy Parker
By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- Grant Shaw can do it all.
OK, maybe that's a stretch for the senior running back. But as one of Clarke County's top returners from last year's 10-1 campaign, Shaw is being asked to do a lot this season.
That's fine, Shaw will tell you. He's ready for that role, and ready to help push the Eagles to a second straight district championship.
"I'm definitely ready," Shaw said. "Our offense was really good last year. We had some big plays and some great players, and I hope to do the same thing. [In the offseason] I did a lot more speed work, trying to get my 40 [yard dash] time down and I've gained about 10 pounds overall to get ready to take more carries."
The physical preparations weren't easy. Last season, Shaw's fastest 40-yard dash time came in at 4.7 seconds. Not fast enough, Shaw thought. He wanted to be faster for next season. So he went to work. He ran sprints with teammates every day, stayed and ran extra sprints after practice and used parachutes to increase resistance.
It's worked so far, Shaw said. He's now down to a 4.6 mark. All of that hard work for a tenth of a second doesn't seem worth it, though. But Shaw knows that margin could mean the difference between a fourth down and a touchdown.
"He's going to fill our spot at running back, definitely," coach Chris Parker said. "He's a very physical kid, smart kid and he's going to be the guy we look to in the backfield."
In addition to trimming his 40 time, Shaw worked on gaining weight in order to become a more physical presence in the Eagles' rushing attack. At 6-foot-4 inches and 205 pounds, however, Shaw was already not an easy player to bring down in 2009. But with another 10 pounds added on, Shaw hopes that extra weight will help him grind out the extra yards.
The physical changes will certainly be needed for Shaw, too. Last season, Shaw finished with 688 yards on the ground, but carried the ball just 64 times. This season, he'll have more than twice that many carries, an adjustment Shaw said isn't completely physical.
"I think taking more carries is more of a mental thing, to be honest," Shaw said. "To want to stay in better shape and be able to take the beatings over the course of the game like the guys did last year is important. Now I just need to get used to doing that this year."
Playing in Clarke County's single-wing offense, Shaw knows he'll be asked to run the ball upwards of 25 times a game. But don't let all of that talk about becoming a top running back fool you. Shaw's real passion comes at wide receiver.
"We've been doing a lot more passing in practice this year, which excites me because I'm a receiver at heart," Shaw said. "Drew [Paice] has got a strong arm and we're excited about our passing game this year."
Both Shaw and Paice admit they hope to incorporate the passing game with a little more frequency this year. So far at practice, the duo has been working together to get in sync for the season, just in case the coaches call a pass play.
But while Shaw has focused on developing his skills as a runner and receiver, the entire Eagles team hasn't lost focus on how last season ended. After steamrolling through the nondistrict season and the Bull Run District, Clarke County was upset in the first round of the playoffs, falling to a speedy Appomattox team, 42-28.
It was a game that's left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, from the coaches to the guys on the bench. Shaw remembers all too well when last year came to a screeching halt, and said he's used that as motivation to get better and work for the chance at redemption.
"A lot of guys remember that," Shaw said. "We'll never forget that loss, but it really gives you perspective on how important the playoffs are and how the regular season is important for getting ready for the playoffs if you're good enough to make it. You've got to have a good offense, a good defense and you've got to work hard."
In other words, you've got to do it all. Shaw's working on that.