By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg's varsity football team has to reload its wide receiver and defensive back positions this season after losing some key pieces to graduation. The Rams return a few players with some varsity experience at those spots, but it will be up to a handful of newcomers to provide Strasburg with some depth on the outside this season.
Juniors Tyrik "Papoose" Steed and Austin Schlentner, who played limited roles for the Rams last season, now find themselves as the "veterans" of a group that consists of program newcomers Noah St. Clair, Trevin Howard, Nate Butler and Cody Darr.
Of those four newcomers, St. Clair and Darr -- both seniors -- have rejoined Strasburg's football program after competing as eighth-graders, and juniors Howard and Butler are taking up the sport for the first time in high school.
That group got its first taste of game action in a scrimmage last Saturday against West Virginia schools Moorefield and Hedgesville, and Strasburg head coach Mark Roller liked what he saw.
"I think they all have impressed me since we've had our first scrimmage," Roller said before practice on Thursday. "Noah is really doing well. Nate's finally starting to pick up offensively and learning how to play a little bit of defense. Trevin's the same way. The three of those guys, which are really our new guys, those three are definitely athletic enough to play for us and they're finally starting to understand the game a little bit. And that takes a little bit of time just because of the fact that they've been out of it for a while. Things change."
St. Clair, who hasn't played football since a broken wrist ended his eighth-grade season early, said grasping the offense has been more difficult than learning his role at cornerback, simply because of the sheer volume of plays he has to learn as a wide receiver.
"Just remembering the plays and catching on to stuff, as you get going you get better at it," said St. Clair, who added that his role as a defensive-minded guard on Strasburg's basketball team has prepared him well for the Rams' defensive secondary. "The biggest one is just learning the plays and getting used to the offense. Getting used to being connected with [quarterback] Mark [Smoot]."
Roller said the young receivers -- who have quickly grasped blocking schemes and route running by virtue of their athleticism -- have been aided by the veteran presence of Mark Smoot and tight end Ryan Smoot, although he added that the coaching staff has taken a slower approach to installing various aspects of Strasburg's offense in order to accommodate the learning curve.
"The challenge is learning plays and learning formations. That's a little bit difficult for them right now and they're still struggling," said Roller. "The good thing is we have Mark and Ryan, are able to help tell them where to go. And I think they'll eventually get to that. I think by week two they should catch on."
NEXT IN LINE: The Rams' inexperience on offense won't be strictly limited to its perimeter players this fall. Strasburg is feeling that youth along the offensive line, as well.
Roller said some of the Rams' linemen who have made the jump from JV to varsity this season got a wake-up call quickly in Saturday's scrimmage.
"The ones that are finding out that the game is a lot faster is those young linemen. They're having a little bit of difficulty," Roller said.
Seniors Joe Giallonardo (guard) and Aaron Lozado (left tackle) return as fixtures along the offensive line, and sophomore Josh Pritchett is back at center after starting for the Rams as a freshman during the second half of the 2013 season. Roller said junior guard Rashon Alsberry and sophomore right tackle Ryan Jenkins are progressing but still need to develop more consistency in their blocks.
"What we've seen so far is they think that if I just get in the way of people as opposed to driving people off the football and reestablishing the line of scrimmage -- they're having a little bit of difficulty with staying with the blocks," Roller said. "That's going to come in time and I think eventually they'll be OK all the way across the board."
FINAL TUNE-UP: Strasburg will have one final preseason scrimmage today at East Hardy (West Virginia) before the Rams open up the 2014 regular season with a home game against county rival Stonewall Jackson next Friday.
Roller said he was pleased with the Rams' performance in last Saturday's scrimmage, and it allowed him to get a better feel for which players will be able to provide depth as capable backups this fall. Now he hopes to see Strasburg eliminate some of the mistakes that it made against Moorefield and Hedgesville.
"There's some things that we've got to work on and we've been working on them all week," Roller said. "We'll find out with this scrimmage again Friday night. We'll see if there were able to take those things and put them to good use."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com