By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- Derik Duklis has a new least favorite experience as he transitions to quarterback for Massanutten Military Academy's football team.
The junior, a transfer from West Springfield High School, got "cleaned" by an opposing defensive tackle right after he released the pitch on an option during Saturday's scrimmage against Sidwell Friends. The erstwhile cornerback/wide receiver apparently did not enjoy that moment.
"Yeah, blind-side hits -- those kill," Duklis said.
Duklis may be facing a few more of those this season after coming out on top of a three-way battle for the starting quarterback spot at MMA. Colonels coach Chris Gilliland said the unique skill-set as a dangerous runner and passer that Duklis offers reminds him of last year's starting quarterback, Kenya Ray-Abrams, who won Patriot Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2012.
"We went into the scrimmage trying to figure where we were going to go, quarterback-wise and some other positions," Gilliland said. "We feel like Derik's athleticism, he's able to get to the outside. He reminds me a lot of what Kenya could do for us last year. Obviously, we're still working with some of the fundamental-type things with him, but he understands the plays, he knows where guys are supposed to be and he can make a play if the blocking breaks down or if the routes are off-kilter."
Duklis is learning on the fly, having spent the summer playing wide receiver during MMA's 7-on-7 tournament action. Damoni Gunter was the quarterback then, but he'll likely be a starting wideout now. Justin Elshafie, who appeared to have the early lead at quarterback, shifts over to tight end on offense for now.
"I want to get the best 11 guys on the field, and he's one of them," Gilliland said of Elshafie. "I've got to get them both on the field."
Duklis is slated to be behind center open their season Friday with a 4 p.m. game against visiting Quantico. He admits that one of the biggest challenges has been keeping his cool when things go wrong and being a leader of the offense. As for replacing the dynamic Ray-Abrams, Duklis is up for the challenge.
"That's what I've been told, that I've got some big shoes to fill," Duklis said. "I'm looking forward to it."
MR. EVERYTHING: In four years as a varsity football player at MMA, senior Houston Walls has collected game film from just about every imaginable spot on the football field.
"He's played just about every position on the field, both offensively and defensively, except the offensive and defensive line," Gilliland said. "Defensively he'll be a free safety, he'll stay there. Offensively, he'll play slot and may play a little bit of X and Z, our outside receiver positions. I'm not going to put him at running back much this year, and he's our emergency quarterback."
Compared to past seasons, this one could be lighter for Walls. Gilliland wants to keep his prized senior fresher for his two-way starting assignment, so special teams should be largely off-limits this year. Already dinged up, Walls sat out Saturday's scrimmage and is just getting back into full-practice mode. Gilliland said Walls will be on the field Friday, as usual.
"I kind of joked with him and said, 'You know, when you leave I'll probably cry when you graduate,'" Gilliland said. "He's the first kid that we had football-wise four years ago, and he's the first one we've had go four years since I've been here."
Walls has enjoyed the experience at MMA every bit as much. The Chestertown, Md., resident is looking forward to one final season of suiting up for Gilliland and the Colonels.
"I've really enjoyed my time here," Walls said. "If I hadn't come here, I probably wouldn't be the person I am today or the football player I am today."
'D' GETS AN 'A': MMA's defense severely struggled at times during last season's 3-7 campaign, especially in stopping the run.
Gilliland has been encouraged by what he's seen from this year's group in two scrimmages, and he attributes much of that to the solid play by defensive ends Damoni Gunter and Erin Carter. That duo's containment ability has Gilliland comparing last year's defense with this year's as "night and day."
"They are really picking up what we're trying to do on defense," Gilliland said. "I think the problem we had last year, especially against teams like R-MA and Fredericksburg Christian was one, we couldn't fill up the linebacker position and that killed us, and two, we couldn't contain anyone."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>