2015 Football: Rams searching for identity heading into 2015 season

Strasburg head coach Mark Roller talks to his players in a game against Clarke County last season. Rich Cooley/Daily file

STRASBURG – Members of Strasburg High School’s football program have heard the question. What will the Rams look like in 2015 after the graduation of eight seniors from last year’s playoff team, many of whom played key roles in the program over the last couple of seasons?

“You hear that a lot, ‘What are you going to do without them?'” Rams senior Austin Schlentner said recently. “But we heard it a lot when Trenton (Davis) and Jonathan (Kloosterman graduated in 2014) and we just came back and you’ve got to listen to the coaches and work hard. Us seniors are real big with being involved with them and the biggest thing is the camaraderie and teamwork.”

With a roster consisting of 15 seniors, many who gained valuable playing time in 2014 and bring a veteran presence to this year’s squad, the potential is there for the Rams in 2015. The issue, head coach Mark Roller said midway through fall camp, has rested in the program finding its own identity in the wake of losing a strong contingent of leadership.

Roller said on Aug. 17 that this year’s team possesses the “we should be able to be as good as last year” mindset, but he added that the team’s collective work ethic had yet to reach the required point if Strasburg hopes to at least match last season’s first-round appearance in the Region 2A East playoffs.

“It’s a good core to build around. Those guys, they have the potential to be pretty good,” Roller said of Strasburg’s returning varsity experience, which includes a handful of juniors in addition to the senior core. “… We’re not there yet but I think everything’s there to get the things done that we need to get done. It’s just a matter of how they want to do it.”

With new faces set to reside at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end, the consensus among the Rams midway through camp was that the team’s strength will rest on the defense in 2015, where Strasburg returns six starters from last season and should be more comfortable in its 5-3 base.

Junior Hunter Riley is the only returning starter on Strasburg’s five-man defensive front that will include tackles Rashon Alsberry and Paul Bragg and ends Christian Neff and Dylan Campbell, but three linebackers and two defensive backs bring starting experience for the Rams.

Senior Justin Carr and juniors Adam Miller and Josh Pritchett – the latter two each had 58 tackles in 2014 – all return to man the three linebacker spots, while seniors Trevin Howard (two interceptions last season), Schlentner (four interceptions in 2014) and Tyrik “Papoose” Steed will lead the secondary.

“It’s definitely a strength,” Miller said of Strasburg’s defense. “That’s what we’re probably going to have to rely on, hopefully hold teams down so we don’t have to score as many points.”

Offensively, the Rams return five starters, including three linemen in Alsberry, Pritchett (center) and junior Ryan Jenkins. Roller said he expects the offensive line, which will also feature Neff, Riley and Christian Plaugher, to be a strength for an offense that will break in new starters at the skill positions.

Howard returns at receiver after hauling in 30 catches for 683 yards and six touchdowns last season and will be joined at the position by program veterans Schlentner and Steed. Carr – who started at fullback in 2014 – will split carries with Miller at running back this fall, Roller said. Sophomore Austin Miller will start at tight end, a position used heavily in the passing game last season when Ryan Smoot led the Rams with 38 catches for 494 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Juniors Ethan Duckworth and Ryan Bowers competed for the starting quarterback spot in camp, and Roller said Duckworth had a “slight edge” over Bowers in the competition after the Rams’ first preseason scrimmage on Aug. 15.

Last season, Mark Smoot passed for 2,171 yards and 26 touchdowns.

“Whether or not we throw as much as we did last year, that’s still to be determined,” Roller said. “I think with the guys we have up front we ought to be able to run the ball a little bit more.”

Roller said Carr and sophomore Jacob Knapp will share kicking duties while Pritchett will likely punt for the Rams this fall.

Strasburg, which lost at home in the first round of the Region 2A East playoffs to King William last season, opens its 2015 campaign with a road game against county rival Stonewall Jackson at 7 tonight.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com