2015 Football: Yellow Jackets optimistic about 2015 season

Randolph-Macon Academy quarterback Peter Blair, center, fields a snap during a drill at a recent practice in Front Royal. Brad Fauber/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – As Randolph-Macon Academy prepares for the 2015 high school football season, Yellow Jackets head coach Frank Sullivan can’t help but feel optimistic.

When he looks out at the Yellow Jackets’ roster of 34 players, he sees plenty of potential.

“We’re still a little thin depth-wise but this is probably the most highly skilled team I’ve had,” said Sullivan, who is in his ninth season as R-MA’s head football coach.

It helps that the Yellow Jackets have not one, but two, capable veterans at the quarterback position this fall after the arrival of junior Corban Ruch, a transfer from nearby Skyline High School. Ruch, who started at quarterback the last two seasons at Skyline and was the Conference 28 Offensive Player of the Year in 2014, joins incumbent starter Peter Blair, posing Sullivan the enviable challenge of figuring out how to get both on the field.

But the talent doesn’t stop there, Sullivan said.

Though R-MA lost its top two leading rushers from last season, Sullivan has been encouraged by the early competition at the running back position between senior Drew Bendler, junior Jeffrey Collins and Alex Blell. Sullivan referred to the trio as three “knuckleheads” who are “having fun every night.”

“They’re really looking good,” Sullivan said. “You see them running the ball, they’re small and shifty but they’re also strong. It’s going to be fun if they keep this attitude up.”

Sullivan is similarly optimistic about the wide receiver position, where the Yellow Jackets return senior Jeremiah Hixson, who led R-MA with 13 catches for 278 yards and two touchdowns in 2014, along with a handful of potential playmakers. Sullivan said junior Alex Ndongo-Seh has “blossomed” after remaining at the school over the summer to work out and get a head start on his schoolwork, while new arrival Kel Emeruwa could be a “force to be reckoned with out wide.”

Whoever doesn’t earn the starting quarterback job between Blair and Ruch could also be used as a slot receiver, Sullivan added.

All of those options at the skill positions forced Sullivan to restructure R-MA’s offense in the offseason. What was once a run-heavy attack at R-MA with the quarterback taking snaps under center is now a spread offense run primarily from shotgun formations.

“We’ll still get into some two-back stuff and get under the center but we’re running the spread to take advantage of some of those skill guys and get people out in space, and hopefully take a little heat off our offensive line,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he expects the Yellow Jackets to throw the football with more regularity in 2015 – Blair completed 23 of 56 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns last season – but establishing a consistent running game behind an offensive line that returns seniors Scott Donahue, Alex Jung and Thomas Brewer remains a priority.

Defensively, the Yellow Jackets return five starters, including Jung, whom Sullivan said he expects to anchor the defensive line. Junior Tanyi Makia and senior Sean McKnight are in the mix for a spot along the defensive line or at inside linebacker, Sullivan said, and the coach has plenty of options for filling out the rest of his 4-2-5 defense with 16 players comprising the outside linebacker and defensive back groups.

“We tried to create a lot of competition,” Sullivan said.

Ben Hester, Collins and Blell are vying for linebacker spots, Sullivan said, while Ndongo-Seh and Emeruwa will join returning starters Hixson (36 tackles, two interceptions in 2014), Bendler and Will Long in the secondary.

Sullivan said R-MA’s overall strength could lie in its team speed.

“Hopefully if offsets our lack of size,” he said. “But our overall team speed’s going to be something to deal with and I think the kids, they seem, for three days in, they have a good football sense. They have an idea what’s going on.”

When R-MA began fall camp on Aug. 17, it did so without a conference affiliation after the Patriot Conference – which shrunk to just three teams in 2014 – disbanded. Sullivan said on Aug. 19 that there were discussions amongst fellow athletic directors from Massanutten Military Academy, Hargrave Military Academy and Fishburne Military School – three teams R-MA plays each season – about forming a four-team football conference as early as this fall.

The Yellow Jackets, coming off a 4-5 season, open their 2015 campaign with a noon home game against Potomac School on Sept. 5.

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