By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Finally, Kevin Roberts can breathe.
Finally, he can feel the anticipation intrinsic in every game week, feel it build with each passing day, feel it pluck at his nerves.
Roberts hasn't felt like this for more than a year.
"I just miss the feeling of being out there -- that's the biggest thing, just the feeling," said Roberts, who missed the 2009 season because he suffered from seizures. "Getting your emotions in check, that's gonna be the hardest thing ... because when emotions start flying, everybody's temper starts going, yapping and yelling, screaming at whoever -- it's fun, it's all fun."
Shenandoah's season-opener against Catholic University, on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Winchester, represents, for Roberts, one final shot at beating a Cardinals team he's never won against.
For Shenandoah, Catholic represents the lone win the Hornets managed in a fickle 1-9 effort last year.
Because of SU's 21-3 stomping of the Washington school last year, and because Shenandoah lost many of its games by only three points, the Hornets were outscored by a paltry 2.3 points per game.
If Shenandoah's new 3-4 defensive scheme, which takes advantage of its many swarming, teeming linebackers, can't keep those 2.3 points off the scoreboard, then at least, the Hornets believe, the coming of Roberts and some others will score the extra 2.3 points a game.
"This will be a great test because we play in a pretty tough conference," Roberts said. "We'll try to pass the ball -- we're not just a running team, we got plenty of weapons now -- so if the run game's a little slow, we'll do the pass game to set up the run game."
And, of course, the success of Shenandoah's passing game rests on quarterback Daniel Wright's left arm. For two years, Wright played behind the now departed Vern Lunsford.
Lunsford owns nine career-passing records at Shenandoah. He owns eight single-season passing records.
Wright laughed when asked about the difference between running an offense as a backup and as a starter: "When I would come in the huddle, they would all crack jokes," he said. "You know -- 'We got the newbie in,' and all that.
"But the guys, they seem to respect me [now]."
Part of the respect he's earned comes from the effort he puts into his improvement, which includes spending an hour each day watching film.
Wright's noticed Catholic, like any team, loses talent from last season, and returns some.
But Catholic seems to have lost more talent than it returns.
This much is obvious: Catholic's leading rusher from last season, Dan Zentz, had only 39 carries. Greg Cordivari, Catholic's projected starting quarterback, has never started a game.
CHAMPING AT THE BIT: Senior linebacker John Redmond said that ever since Shenandoah's season-ending loss to Greensboro, he's been itching for the start of the 2010 season.
Although Redmond has cast the memory of last season aside, he and the Hornets have a point to prove: SU's 1-9 record was a fluke.
With weeks of preseason practices behind him, the season-opener is finally within Redmond's reach.
"[Saturday's] the day we actually suit up and it means something," Redmond said. "The points on the board matter. It's hard to play in scrimmages, when you know you're only getting 15 or 20 minutes in a game.
"But when you're in a real game, everybody knows it's time to play ... because it really matters -- I've been looking forward to it for quite some time."
THE WAITING GAME: Ever since Roberts rejoined the Hornets, SU coaches and players alike have wondered: how will the Shenandoah offense look with two All-USA South running backs splitting carries?
Roberts was a second-teamer in 2008, and Keone Kyle, after leading the conference with 1,157 rushing yards, took first-team honors last season.
Saturday's season-opener won't provide any answers: Kyle is suspended for the game against Catholic for violating team rules.
According to the depth chart released earlier this week, Roberts will start at tailback. He will be backed by former James Wood standout Brock Lockhart and sophomore Brad Martz.