Haymore excited about Pioneers’ positive vibe

By Brad Fauber

WINCHESTER — For Millbrook head football coach Josh Haymore, there’s just something about this year’s group of Pioneers.

Haymore, now in his second season as Millbrook’s head coach, noticed early on that this year’s team possesses some traits that set it apart from his inaugural group of Pioneers. They are behaving like a team and taking responsibility for themselves, and there has even been a noticeable rise in the energy level at practice, Haymore said.

“Attitude,” Haymore said of the one glaring difference between his first two Millbrook squads. “… We’ve got leaders stepping up. We’ve got leaders holding each other accountable. We’ve got players holding each other accountable. The intensity in practice has even picked up and I thought I was a pretty intense dude when we were doing things last year.”

Part of that can be attributed to the overall nature of this year’s team, which appears to Haymore to be closer knit than its predecessor. But Haymore also made sure he drove home that concept of team unity this fall.

Millbrook opened its preseason practice in early August away from the school’s campus, as the Pioneers traveled to Powhatan School in Boyce for the first three days of fall camp. It was during those three days that Haymore feels like the team took a giant leap forward.

“I think those three days that we spent away from everybody and away from the community at Powhatan School, I think we developed even more,” Haymore said. “Last year we watched movies and played in a pond and played Wiffle ball. This year if we had a second we were either getting to know each other or we were watching film. Either we were learning football or we were doing some kind of bonding activity.”

Haymore said the coaches took time telling stories about themselves to allow the players to learn more about the staff, and parents got involved in the activities as well. By the end of the three-day trip, Haymore felt the team more closely resembled a family than a high school football squad.

“It was three days that I can say actually changed my life,” Haymore said.

That unity will be important for Millbrook this season as the Pioneers look to rebound from a 2-8 season a year ago, during which they went 1-3 in Northwestern District play.

The Pioneers return only a handful of starters on each side of the ball, but Millbrook does have some experience at key positions on offense and should be bolstered by a large group of seniors that includes the additions of tight end/linebacker Colin Benner — who transferred from James Wood midway through the 2013 football season — and wide receiver/defensive back Ryan Hartigan.

“I love the seniors that left, but I think with these guys there’s something — they’re stepping up,” Haymore said. “Colin Benner transferring over from James Wood was one of the best things that’s happened to us because of the fact that he’s such a natural-born leader.”

Offensively, all-district selection Aaron Seal and Dwayne Shank return along the offensive line, as does junior quarterback Mark Paxton (77 for 171, 766 yards, eight TDs, 12 interceptions last season), sophomore running back P.K. Kier (102 carries, 400 yards, one TD) and junior wide receiver Nazeeh Johnson.

Haymore said having both Paxton’s and Kier’s experience in the backfield should prove greatly beneficial for the Pioneers, especially since Paxton has embraced the leadership role that comes with being a starting quarterback.

“During the offseason we concentrated a lot on building leaders. We did a thing called Pioneer Platoon Challenge… Mark Paxton was one of our leaders in that, and I think Mark did a good job in doing those things,” Haymore said.

On defense, Millbrook lost its top four tacklers from 2013, including linebacker Mitchell Shiley (team-high 81 tackles last season), who has transferred to Sherando.

Kier, a defensive back, is the Pioneers’ leading returning tackler this season, as he tallied 40 last fall. Haymore said Seal, Gordon Greer and Tyler Russell are in the mix for the starting defensive tackle positions, with Shank, Tre Baylor, A.J. Brandon and Manuel Griffin also competing for spots along the defensive line.

Conor Hartigan and Dakota Koenig will likely man the outside linebacker positions, Haymore said, while Benner and Dylan Lee will work at inside backer. Kevin Valyear will rotate in and out with Kier at safety, according to Haymore, and Ryan Hartigan and Johnson figure to play at the corners.

Millbrook opens the 2014 season at home against Broadway.

“I think our attitude’s totally different and I think that’s a good thing,” Haymore said. “I don’t know how that will translate into wins and losses, but I think with developing a team it’s a lot different.”