By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Justin Neff was thrown into the fire last year. His first year on a varsity squad came at a brand new school, and he was thrust into the starting quarterback role with a very young team.
The Millbrook senior is completely different this season. Neff now has a year in the system, a more experienced team around him and more confidence.
"It seems like everything is easier," Neff said. "Those deep balls are coming easier. All the short passes are just pitch-and-catch to the receivers."
Neff said he started playing football in youth leagues, where he actually played at center, and finally moved to quarterback when he started playing at Robert E. Aylor middle school.
Neff played on Sherando's JV team his freshman and sophomores years, before transferring to Millbrook last year.
He said the adjustment to the varsity level was tougher than actually being at a new school.
"It was definitely a different change," Neff said. "From JV level at Sherando to varsity, and everything just seemed like it was so much faster. I was not used to any of it. I didn't know what any of the plays were. I had to learn all that and get used to the varsity level. This year, it's slowed down. I know all the plays, so it's easier."
Neff threw for 993 yards and five touchdowns last year.
In the offseason, Neff attended a lot of camps to help improve his game. He attended the National Underclassmen showcase in Front Royal, where he was chosen as the quarterback MVP. From there he went to Delaware for the U-100 camp, where he was selected as one of the top quarterbacks. He then advanced to the national camp in Oklahoma. At the national camp he won the quarterback leadership award.
"It was definitely a good experience," Neff said. "Just getting to see the competition across the country. To see what most of the D-1 athletes look like, just competing against them, trying to give them a good show."
He also attended camps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Prosser said Neff's really grown a lot as a player in the last season.
"The biggest thing Justin's done is he's gone from running the play to running the team," Prosser said. "He understands what we're asking of him. He understands the big picture concepts of the offense and truly it's his offense now. He has a lot of command, a lot of freedoms to do what he wants to do."
Neff said he's coached his younger brother's basketball team, and that's also helped him become a better leader.
"It's nice being able to have that confidence to go to somebody," Neff said. "Like if a receiver runs a wrong route, I can just go over there and help him out with it. Just being in control of everybody is just a confidence builder off the football field. It's just nice being a leader."
The Pioneers struggled as a team last year, finishing 3-7.
Millbrook has 22 seniors and good reason to be optimistic about the upcoming year. Neff said he wants to make sure his senior season is one to remember.
"We got a bunch of returning seniors," Neff said. "Everybody just seems like this year they want it more than last year. Last year we all just seemed like 'Oh, we got another year.' But this year everybody seems to want it more."