By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Halfway through last season, Randolph-Macon Academy was already starting to pack away the wing-T offense.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, introducing an offense coach Frank Sullivan had successfully run for eight years at a prep school in Florida. After two years of running an I-formation at R-MA, Sullivan was ready to make the change last year.
"We ran out of running backs real quick," Sullivan said. "We just had some kids get banged up, and that's really a four running back system if you include the quarterback as a runner. We thought we'd have the depth going in, and it got thin real quick."
Gradually, the Yellow Jackets shifted back to that familiar I-formation. What ended up as a blended offense using both is now once more a pure I-formation -- almost, anyway. Sullivan said his team might also work in a few spread sets, as well.
"It's more adaptable if we get some kids into the school that we don't know about," Sullivan said of the new offense. "It's sort of hard to plan unless you definitely know if certain people are going to come back or not come back, on what you are going to do from year to year. So we felt that this was an offense that we could adapt to our kids. We're not married to any one system or anything."
Another plus in shifting back to R-MA's old offense was that Sullivan knew he had most of the key skill position spots set before practice began last week. Junior quarterback Collin McCabe, who started five games last year, got plenty of experience running both offenses as a sophomore.
The Yellow Jackets also have a pair of powerful fullbacks to clear the way in junior Matthew Spearman and senior Cooper Bourdon. That just leaves the tailback spot to fill, and Sullivan is confident R-MA will find a capable runner.
"It seems like every year I've been here, we've been able to find a tailback, as far as athletes walking around campus," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said three players are vying for the starting tailback spot right now -- freshman Kevin Dixon-Slaton and transfers Nathaniel Nguyen and Andre Lake.
"It's a battle," Sullivan said. "Kevin's been here since middle school, so we kind of knew him. "Kevin and Andre we just met [last] Monday."
With the season opener not until Sept. 10 when the Yellow Jackets open at Potomac School, Sullivan and his staff are getting a chance to analyze the roster. That extra time is helpful at a boarding school, where coaches often don't see their players at all during the summer and are not sure who will return from year to year until registration day.
In the first week, Sullivan was particularly happy with the play of junior offensive lineman Logan Usmani.
"He's just blossomed, and we're expecting big things from Logan," Sullivan said. "You can tell he's been working during the offseason."
The defense won't undergo any major changes, as the Yellow Jackets plan to stick with the 4-4 alignment they used last year. There are plenty of holes to fill, as only three starters are back from last season's squad.
"Defense looks great," Sullivan said. "We've got some decent-sized kids. I don't think we're a big team or anything. I think we're more athletic than we are big."
The Yellow Jackets still have plenty of work ahead, but Sullivan is encouraged by what he's seen. R-MA improved to four wins last year after going 2-8 in Sullivan's second season. A similar improvement could land the Yellow Jackets in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association state playoffs.
"We're young this year, but the kids have got a great attitude," Sullivan said. "I love coaching this team."