By Jeff Nations
You go to enough football camps and talk to enough football coaches, and sooner or later you'll hear all about players' "heads swimming" as they learn a new offense or defense, shift over to a new position, move up a level of competition or join a new program.
Even with the Virginia High School League's relaxed restrictions on practices that allowed football teams significant offseason work for the first time just this past summer, the weeks leading up to opening night of the regular season are packed with information -- it's hardly just wind sprints these days for players. There's expanded playbooks to master, assignments to learn, technique to master, game and even practice film to critique. And yes, there's still the occasional wind sprint to endure.
So it's no wonder, really, to learn of all this head swimming taking place in August.
Quarterbacks -- new ones -- are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon. And among the area's football teams, new quarterbacks are certainly not in short supply heading into the opening Friday night on Aug. 30.
Of the eight football-playing schools in our coverage area, only two -- Central and Sherando -- return regular starting quarterbacks from last season. Stonewall Jackson's Daniel Buhl was the favorite to start last season before a broken leg sidelined him for most of the year. He did return to see limited action and again looks to start, so he at least has solid familiarity with the offense if not so many game reps.
Sherando's Reid Entsminger has had lesser version of the same injury issues the last two seasons as the primary part of the Warriors' rotational QBs, with last year's campaign coming to an end due to a broken collarbone suffered against Handley in Sherando's seventh game.
Only Central's Hayden Bauserman has been under center a complete season, and the strong-armed senior is hoping to cap an outstanding high school career with one more big season for the Falcons.
Beyond those two -- three, if you count Buhl -- there looks to be precious little game experience among this year's area starting quarterbacks. In some cases, though, it's really not as dire as it might seem.
Warren County is a prime example. The Wildcats lost four-year starting quarterback Tyler Post to graduation. Post, the Evergreen District's Offensive Player of the Year last season, might seem impossible to replace in Warren County's offense. Still, senior Austin Butler has to try. The good news -- and there's more than one item -- is that Butler has been a long-time part of the program, he logged significant snaps at quarterback last year in relief duty during Warren County's multiple blowout wins, and he's got the confidence of coach Tony Tallent and his teammates that he can do the job.
Crosstown rival Skyline also lost a steady and talented performer to graduation in Aaron Jeremiah. Jerrius Baltimore, a multi-threat option as a quarterback, wide receiver and running back last season, will likely reprise that role this year. That leaves sophomore transfer student Corban Ruch as the front-runner to get the majority of snaps, and Skyline coach Heath Gilbert seems more than comfortable entrusting the Hawks' multiple-I offense with the newcomer.
Strasburg has its own playmaker to replace at quarterback, with dangerous Troy Gordon yet another graduation loss. Junior Mark Smoot, who did see some limited duty at quarterback in a backup role last year, will likely take over as the starter.
The private schools are also looking for new leadership on offense. Massanutten Military Academy must somehow replace the explosive Kenya Ray-Abrams, now in the hunt to start at quarterback at NCAA Division III The Apprentice School after putting together a Patriot Conference Offensive Player of the Year campaign last year. Colonels coach Chris Gilliland has three possibilities there, none with any game experience -- Justin Elshafie, Derik Duklis and Damoni Gunter.
Randolph-Macon Academy lost Ryan Pile to graduation, and Yellow Jackets coach Frank Sullivan is deciding between two players completely new to the program -- and the position -- in a two-way battle between Garrett Cavanaugh and Jack Braymer.
It's a whole lot of head swimming on practice fields around the area. Those who manage that information overload best will have the biggest and most positive impact on their teams' playoff chances this season.
Right now, though, it's simply a matter of keeping their heads above water.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>