By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- Stonewall Jackson coach Dick Krol has only a few concerns heading into the Generals' scrimmage against Manassas Park today: the health of his starters, the size of his starters, and the stifling weather the Generals have been practicing in.
"It's been hot," Krol said. "It's been miserable, and to maintain focus in weather like this is awfully hard to do."
For more than two weeks the Generals have practiced with no clear objective in sight. Combined with the sweltering August heat, keeping the team devoted to practice has been difficult.
Players like tailback Cole Shaffer, quarterback John-Michael Pirtle, and linebacker Sean Stroop have made it easier on Krol, keeping the energy high and practices intense.
But sometimes that heat is intoxicating.
"Mentally it's rough,' Krol said. "Now this week we have a scrimmage ... so we're hoping that we're able to focus on the fact that we finally have something to look forward to rather than just coming out here and sweating every day."
But the heat has hardly been surprising; so fittingly, the bulk of Stonewall Jackson's practices have been just as predictable.
Ryan Pugh, a sophomore transfer from Central, seems to be the only player who's unexpectedly caught Krol's eye.
"We saw what was coming [in practice]," Krol said, "we expected it.
"We have a couple kids we hope really step forward and surprise us as time goes on, but right off the bat it's what we expected."
Specifically, Krol and his staff expected to see a deep core of quick running backs, and a small but aggressive core of linebackers.
Shaffer, at 195 pounds, is easily the largest of the Generals' backfield; as a senior, he's also the most experienced. Outside of Shaffer, there's little size to speak of. Trevor Warner, Jacob Armell, and Jared Getz are all quick, but they're also small.
The same problem haunts the Generals' linebackers.
"We're obviously not as big as we were last year at linebacker," Sean Stroop said, "So we gotta work on getting low and keep our feet moving and just play hard -- play behind our pads because we are small."
Despite his size, Stroop is a swift, stocky, aggressive linebacker. He's also hard-nosed and determined.
Stonewall Jackson went 2-8 last season, beating only Strasburg and Luray; the Generals lost to Wilson Memorial and George Mason by a combined 10 points.
"I turned [last season] into motivation because I don't want to go out like the seniors did the past couple years," Stroop said. "I want to try to win some games, and that's why I'm trying to get everybody on the same page and everybody to work hard, because we can win some games this year."
Pugh will contend for a starting role at linebacker, especially since senior Will Rotondi is hurt for the time being.
Pirtle enters his third season as the Generals' starting quarterback, and at 200 pounds should provide Stonewall Jackson with another body big enough to complement the Generals' plethora of speedy running backs.
Krol said that as long as his starters remain healthy, and his smaller players play fast football, and his slower players play smart football, the Generals could out-perform the Stonewall Jackson teams of recent years.
"We just found ways last year not to finish the game, and these guys went through that," Krol said. "A lot of these kids don't want to graduate with a 2-8 record or a 3-7 record, but that's up to them, they have to decide that's what they want to do and they have to do it."