By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- It's another year, another new starting quarterback for Massanutten Military Academy's football team.
The Colonels, who had then newcomer Derik Duklis leading the offense last year as a replacement for graduated standout Kenya Ray-Abrams, have to break in another new signal caller this season due to Duklis' transfer.
Deonte Spence, from Bayonne, New Jersey, hasn't played organized football in three years but he'll be running the offense for MMA this season.
It's still early, of course, but Colonels coach Chris Gilliland likes what he's seen from the rising junior so far.
"He's understanding the plays," Gilliland said. "The thing that's difficult sometimes for the quarterbacks that have been in our system is being calm, and that's something he needs to work on. We've been working with him on that, on keeping calm and understanding there's a learning curve not only for himself but for everybody else. He's kind of a go-getter and wants to go out and get everything done quickly, and sometimes we need to slow him down a little bit."
Spence, who previously attended MMA three years ago, thinks timing is the main thing he and his teammates need to work on to sharpen the spread offense this season.
"The plays are going pretty good so far," Spence said. "We just need to focus on the basic things at first, like me and the center need to get on the same pace snapping the ball."
The Colonels, who had the first preseason scrimmage against visiting Sidwell Friends on Saturday, went through Friday's walk-through with just 17 players on the field. Gilliland expected six to eight more to arrive by Saturday, and is hopeful the Colonels will have around 30 players by the second week of the regular season.
Even at around 30, the Colonels will likely need Spence to stay at quarterback.
"Honestly, if it was a different place I would have him playing either the slot or the wide receiver position," Gilliland said. "I always say if you don't have a quarterback, you put the most athletic kid you've got back there and see what can happen."
Spence, still awaiting most of his offensive line on Friday, is optimistic about this season.
"It's a good experience, all around," Spence said. "We just need to focus on the little things that will get us to the next level."
MANNING THE MIDDLE: Rising sophomore Tyler Draddy got plenty of on-the-job training last season. Then a freshman, Draddy started every game for the Colonels except when he sustained a concussion against Quantico. That put him out of action for about a game and a half.
Draddy will be a focal point of a defense that should return plenty of experience from last season. He's also slated to start on offense, possibly on the offensive line or at running back, but it's defense he prefers.
"Probably just middle linebacker, but if I have to play anything else that's OK," Draddy said. "I mean, I'd like to get a break in between but I wouldn't mind going 24/7."
Draddy might get the occasional breather, but MMA will be counting on him all season.
"He's got the experience from last year, so he knows where he's supposed to be and he understands where the play's going," Gilliland said. "He reads the quarterback extremely well. He did a great job for us last year.
"He was a second-team all-state guy last year in our division, and I'm hopeful that he can bump up and be a real playmaker on defense for us this fall."
DISTANCE AWARD: The Colonels are still expecting players to arrive from such far-flung destinations as Europe and central Africa, but no one will likely eclipse rising senior Weiouquing Chen's mileage to arrive in Woodstock.
"It's 13 hours just to Beijing, and then he's got another 2 ½-hour flight just to his hometown," Gilliland said of Chen, who is from China.
Chen has been making that trip for three years, and the Colonels are better for it. As a tri-captain this season, Chen is slated to see action as an H-back, running back, strong safety, outside linebacker and defensive end.
"He's a utility guy who we'll put in the box somewhere," Gilliland said. "He's gotten better and better every year. He's hard on himself and he works hard. He's a team leader. If something's out of place, he goes and tries to get it done and get it fixed. He's not the type of guy to yell at you for anything. He's going to try and help you and guide you and lead you in the right direction."
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com