By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando coach Bill Hall has a good feeling about his team this season. Although it's still early in the season, Hall likes the work ethic and mentality he is seeing from his squad.
"I think this team as a whole, I think they have a good mindset and a good mentality," Hall said. "That was one of the things we needed to focus on was a better practice mentality. You know, that kind of came back and bit us a couple times last year. Your great practice teams are your great playoff teams because they get better every week no matter who they're playing."
The Warriors had a successful season last year, finishing with a 7-4 record. However, they lost in overtime to Louisa in the first round of the playoffs. They also had some tough losses in the regular season, including a loss to Skyline which cost them the outright district title.
Hall said the team had no trouble getting focused for teams such as Handley and Liberty, but struggled with focusing on some of the other teams.
The players said they learned from last year's losses.
"We can't take any games off," junior George Aston said. "We have to practice the week leading up to the game just like it's the state championship game. We have to practice the same every single day. We feel like [a lack of focus] should never have happened and we're not going to let it happen this year."
The Warriors lost a lot from last year's team, especially on the offensive line. Hall said it's not unusual to lose an entire line, and he's confident in the guys that he has this season.
Hall said they are still figuring out who will be starting on the line and how rotations will work. Hall said the key to success on the offensive line is teamwork.
"The line has to become one," Hall said. "It has to have its own identity, but they have to take great pride in that. And when they do, they can function at a higher level than anybody can expect of them. It's not as much individual strength as how do those five guys function as one. Every year if you can get them to that point, then you can be good. So that's always our charge, is to get those [players] to function as one."
Reid Entsminger will be the quarterback for the Warriors this season. The junior split time at QB last year with Jalen Brisco before suffering an injury in the first part of the season.
Hall said they will use Entsminger as a dual threat, taking advantage of his athletic ability. Hall said he has total confidence in Entsminger, who started at defensive back as a freshman.
"Reid's just a playmaker," Hall said. "As far as I know, there's been two freshman to ever start at Sherando -- Ross Metheny and Reid Entsminger. I think that speaks volumes just about the type of kid he is and his competitive makeup and his will to succeed."
The Warriors lost two important pieces on offense in running backs Joe Ojo and Tre Porter, both of whom are expected to attend Hargrave Military Academy this season.
Despite those two losses, Hall said he feels good about the running back spot. He said senior Taylor Loudan and Aston will help fill those spots. The Warriors also have fullback Tyler Clowser returning.
Hall said Loudan is elusive, while Aston, who will also see time at tight end, gives them a bigger back.
"He brings a different set of skills to the table," Hall said. "His strength is unmatched in terms of what I've seen here. I've never had a kid physically develop the way he's developed from freshman year to his sophomore year now to his junior year."
Loudan was a wide receiver last year and also will be expected to make some catches again this season, along with Aston.
Clowser will be back at kicker, while the punting duties were still up in the air early in the preseason.
The Warriors have some key players back on the defensive side of the ball. That starts up front with Chris Smith, who had 8.5 sacks last year for Sherando.
Smith, who won the high jump in track last season, is expected to be a key cog on the line for the Warriors.
"He will be the dynamic," Hall said. "He's just an unbelievable athlete and he runs like a deer. We're going to highlight his strengths. I expect him to have a huge year."
Aston, who led the team in tackles last year, and Clowser will lead the linebackers this season. Hall said there will be a couple new faces at linebacker who he thinks will do really well.
"Dan Eppard, Joe Daley -- those type of kids are now up with George and Tyler," Hall said. "[Aston and Clowser] started and bringing up two kids that are pretty physical kids -- 200-210 -- weight room warriors. They're big, strong kids. That's a good recipe for success."
Hall is also excited about his secondary. Entsminger will lead the way, with Loudan and John Bentley at the corners. Josh Ojo, Isaiah Williams and Rhett Morris will also see time in the secondary.
"We have a lot of good athletes back there, they just have to get their feet wet," Hall said. "That's what we're doing now, but they have the skills to be successful."
The Warriors have had a strong tradition for a number of years, and the players are eager to keep it going and have another successful season.
"I feel like we're making progress in practice, getting everything together," Loudan said.
"We've still got a lot steps that we need to make forward. We still have a lot of progress that we can make and that we're gonna make, but right now I feel like we're ahead of the game. We're making a lot of good progress and working hard every day to get better."