2015 Football: Pioneers looking for winning formula

Skyline's Brandon Walters tips and misses a pass as Millbrook's Nazeeh Johnson intercepts during their game last season in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily file

WINCHESTER — Josh Haymore, head coach of the Millbrook High School Pioneers, said the team’s motto for the upcoming season is “just win.”

The Pioneers went 3-7 overall and 0-4 in the Northwestern District last season, following a promising 2-0 start.

“A lot of it comes down to winning and losing,” Haymore said. “I want these guys … to be very successful, and I’d like to get to the playoffs.”

Over the course of their final eight games, the Pioneers dropped close decisions against Fauquier, Skyline and James Wood.

Against Skyline, the Pioneers lead 3-0 before falling 7-3 to the Hawks on a late touchdown pass.

Millbrook met a similar fate last October in a 21-20 loss to the James Wood Colonels. The Pioneers lead 14-0 at halftime, but surrendered 21 consecutive points and failed to convert a late 2-point conversion attempt.

“Losing seven out of the last eight kind of got to us,” Haymore said. “I think this year the guys are going for more of a team aspect. I think the guys are closer as a team.”

Haymore said, “Last year, we didn’t finish a lot of our games. I think this year, they’re learning that … we’re competing every single day in practice.”

Similar to the previous season, the Pioneers left the comforts of Winchester for the first three days of camp. This season, they went to Shenandoah Valley Academy in New Market.

To spice up practice this year, Haymore devised competition periods to pit the players against each other in team, individual and situational drills designed to up the ante in terms of competition.

“If we have 3rd and 8, the number one offense will be up. If they get two out of three [conversions], the defense has got to do up-downs,” Haymore said, adding that it works the same if the defense wins the drill.

“I wanted to see them learn football. I wanted to see them see and get used to what it feels to win,” Haymore said.

“We were more of a team when we rolled through [camp] this year,” Haymore said. “Once we got back to Winchester, the distraction of Winchester did not affect us.”

The Pioneers are returning 10 seniors this season and will look to build off of experience and a familiarity within Haymore’s system.

“I think our offense and defense fit our kids and we gotta keep running that … because our kids understand it, they know it,” Haymore said.

The Pioneers are also looking for major contributions from offense threats in junior running back P.K. Kier and senior wide receiver Nazeeh Johnson.

“I’m looking for them to be leaders. They gotta be leaders, they gotta know they plays, they gotta know the formations and they gotta know everything,” Haymore said.

He added that, for Kier and Johnson, “it’s not just about defense,” since both players have dual roles as offensive weapons and defensive players.

“They gotta be key players on defense. They can’t just be guys that are out there and take up space,” Haymore said.

Millbrook opens up the season on the road against Jefferson High School Cougars on Aug. 28, before returning to Winchester for their home opener against the Hedgesville High School Eagles on Sept. 5.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com