By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- You could say these are the payoff years for Central High School football coach Mike Yew, with back-to-back Group A football playoff appearances for the Falcons.
The success is welcome, but for Yew the payoff came much earlier -- back in his teens, when Yew was teaching swimming classes during the summer, he first discovered how fulfilling it could be to teach sports to kids. From then on, Yew knew where his life's work would be.
"To be honest with you, I think I knew when I was 17, when I taught swimming lessons for the first time, that I was kind of meant to be around kids and to teach kids, and to do that with my life," Yew said. "It seemed natural to be around sports, to be around kids. I don't see myself doing anything else. I don't know what else I'd do if I wasn't doing this."
Central is certainly fortunate Yew had that long-ago revelation. Yew, who led the Falcons to their best postseason run ever with a spot in the Group A state quarterfinals, is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2012 Football Coach of the Year.
Central finished its season with a 10-3 record, claiming a share of the Bull Run District regular-season championship and winning the unofficial Shenandoah County championship by downing rivals Strasburg and Stonewall Jackson during the regular season. It was against Strasburg, in a high-stakes playoff rematch, that Yew will likely draw his most lasting memory from the 2012 campaign.
Hosting the Rams in the second round of the Group A state playoffs, the Falcons had just endured a miserable opening half. Strasburg star running back Rakwon White had done precisely what Yew and Central's coaching staff had most feared -- busted loose for a big play on a 59-yard touchdown run less than a minute into the game. For the Falcons, trailing 22-6 at halftime, the outlook was bleak.
"It wasn't a shouting match at halftime, it wasn't a lot of yelling and hollering," Yew said. "We looked at a couple kids in particular that we thought played soft. We kind of challenged them, 'Is that really how you want your season to end, with that kind of performance?' And then we basically challenged all of our linemen because we knew our linemen were better than that. We proved it the first time we played them and we proved it many games that we played throughout the year."
The Falcons responded to the challenge, powering down the field on two straight possessions for touchdowns to tie the game. Central eventually won in overtime, 25-22.
"I would say the thing that sticks out the most is just the way we played in the second half of the Strasburg playoff game," Yew said. "Our kids were down and we got kicked in the mouth I thought pretty good by Strasburg in the first half. And our kids came back in the second half and made some big plays and made some stops when they needed to. If I had to look back on the season, the one thing that sticks out is probably the second half of that playoff game."
Central's season ended the following week with a 48-28 road loss to eventual Group A state runner-up Essex, a team stacked with speed and play-making ability. Central, behind the pinpoint passing of junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman, generated plenty of big plays against the Trojans in the losing effort.
"It's hard to lose a game knowing you put up 476 yards of offense and scored 28 points and you still lost by 20," Yew said. "It wasn't enough. There's no real blame to put anywhere. We just weren't talented enough to stop them. Their team speed was a huge part of the game. We just couldn't protect the edge or really stop the deep ball."
Yew credits a cohesive, tight-knit coaching staff with helping maximize Central's talent. Rowdy Hoover served as the Falcons' defensive coordinator, Rich Shockey took care of special teams, and Yew concentrated on offense. Yew credits those two, along with the rest of Central's coaching staff, with helping draw up the blueprint to the Falcons' successful season.
"I wouldn't trade our staff for anybody else in the state," Yew said. "We have a good group of guys. We're friends, we laugh together, we do things together outside of football. It's just a good group of guys, it really is."
Talented players never hurt, either, and Central had plenty of those this past season. Buoyed by a formidable junior class that had come of age as sophomores in the 2011 playoff season, Central proved a tough matchup week in and week out for opponents.
Like most teams, though, Central had to face its share of adversity during the season. The biggest came late in the year, when leading rusher Daniel Molina was lost for the season with an injury. Jordan Umstead stepped into the starting role, and the Falcons kept right on rolling.
"There was no dropoff between the two -- they both had tremendous seasons," Yew said. "Jordan certainly could've been our starting tailback at any point, from game one through the stretch when he was not there.
"Jordan was not starting, just because we knew we were going to lean on him in so many different ways. We didn't want to put the burden on him, being a linebacker and safety, as well as our starting tailback, as well as playing some slot receiver and all those other things."
It was the type of success Yew envisioned for this year's team, providing everything fell right for the Falcons. Under his guidance, most everything did come together just right for Central.
"Obviously we had a special year," Yew said. "We achieved a lot of goals, went a little further than what we did last year. We had a lot of sophomores last year that got mixed in with some juniors and seniors. This year those juniors really got thrown into the fire with the exception of a handful of seniors.
"... I don't want to say fall short or exceeded because we felt like we should have been there. We knew we had a lot of kids coming back. We had to fill a couple spots with some seniors [graduating] as far as linemen, and obviously filling the void left by [wide receiver/defensive back] Sean Semones was going to be a tall order. But we felt like with the core we had and the success these kids have had since the eighth grade, it would kind of take care of itself."
Looking ahead to next year, Yew knows he will have to replace at least the six seniors off this past season's squad. But the core group of juniors should be back for their senior season, and Central can't help but be energized by that prospect.
"Everyone in the area knows we were sophomore-heavy last year and we're junior-heavy this year," Yew said. "Next year we'll be senior-heavy. We do have a couple voids to fill. Cody Neal was a big player for us, Jordan Umstead, Cody Brill -- the other seniors were kind of role players and special teams players, but we do have a couple voids to fill. We are excited about where we're at, that's for sure."
Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at (540) 465-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org