By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WINCHESTER -- Last year was a rough one for Handley. With a young and inexperienced team the Judges went through some hard times. Now a year older and more experienced, the team has high hopes for what it can accomplish.
The Judges return nine starters on offense and eight on defense. Handley coach Tony Rayburn said despite their 3-7 record, he was happy with how they progressed each week last season.
"We kept trying to get better each week, and I thought we really improved as a team," Rayburn said. "At the end of the year we were a much better team than where we started at. Hopefully we'll build off of what we ended with, and I think we have a chance to have a good football team."
Rayburn said he really liked how his players responded in the offseason.
"I think they were a little embarrassed," Rayburn said. "I think they really had the taste of losing and they don't like it. I told them I've been doing this 23 years and this is the best group we've ever had in the weight room. The main core of our kids worked four days a week from January through August. That's some dedication.
"We look a lot more like a football team this year. Physically we fill out our uniforms a whole lot more."
Handley junior quarterback Will Dearing is back for his third year as a starter.
Dearing threw for 1,562 yards on 125 of 231 passing and 14 touchdowns.
"Will's just matured physically, he's put on 20 pounds," Rayburn said. "He's 6-3, 180-85, he was 160 last year. He's improved his arm strength, making reads, his knowledge of the offense.
"He's one of those kids that you couldn't ask him to do any more than he does. He's a leader, too. The kids look up to him. He's taken lumps. He's paid his dues, that's for sure."
Millbrook transfer D.J. Frisby, a junior, will be the Judges' primary running back.
Handley will have plenty of depth at receiver. They have Justin Washington, Dontae Mauck, Jarett Cestaro and Brian Thomas all returning from last year. Senior Jason Morgan, who did not play last year, will also be in the mix.
"I think we're deeper than we've ever been at receiver," Rayburn said.
Handley also returns its entire offensive line. Jordan Dowrey, Cole Daylor, Zahrain Washington, Clif Ambers and Troy Bergin all return. Rayburn said Ben Nelson and Kingsley will each see time at tight end.
Dowrey, Zahrain Washington, Bergin, Dennis Vega and Marquaye Jackson will lead the way on the defensive front for the Judges.
Senior Jack Pingley is back at linebacker. Rayburn said senior linebacker Will Martin has really improved in the weight room.
The defensive backfield should also be solid led by Justin Washington, Thomas, Morgan, Frisby and Andrew Lins.
The Judges will have to go out on the field to prove how good they can be, and the players are excited to do that.
"I think we have the potential to do very well,' Dowrey said. "If we're not successful I think that's going to have a lot to do with what we're doing and the mistakes we're making. I think the biggest thing is for us to make sure that we do what we're supposed to do regardless of who we're playing."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org