Football Preview 2016: Victory over Clarke turned Millbrook season around

Millbrook head coach Josh Haymore leads his team with stretching during the start of a recent practice. The Pioneers are looking to build off of a strong season last year. Rich Cooley//Daily

WINCHESTER – Millbrook football coach Josh Haymore can remember the point last season when he and his staff began to think they had the program headed in the right direction.

“Clarke County,” he said without blinking. “It wasn’t so much that we won the game, but that we learned to compete with them. That was the big thing,” the head Pioneer said the other day.

Haymore, beginning his fourth season at the Frederick County school, is a tight-lipped guy. But remembering the game at the Eagles’ Wilbur M. Feltner Stadium, a 20-14 loss, on Sept. 11 causes even the coach to smile.

Clarke County, a traditional state power at Group 2A, was meeting a Millbrook team which had gone 5-15 the previous two seasons. The Pioneers were a 4A school trying to find its way.

But on that night in Berryville, the 2015 Pioneers helped turn things around.

What followed was a stand-out season. The Carolina Blue-clad Pioneers finished 8-4 overall, 3-1 in the Northwestern District. That was the second highest win total in the 13-year history of the school.

They flummoxed Liberty Christian Academy 65-18 in a first-round game of the 4A West playoffs, becoming just the second Millbrook team to win a playoff contest since the school started.

Seven offensive starters and eight defensive first-teamers return from that squad, including the smashing running back P.K. Kier, who committed to Virginia on June 17.

Kier, a 3-star recruit according to several services, rushed for 1,352 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. He averaged nine yards per carry.

It was the first season the 5-foot-11, 205-pound combination of speed and explosiveness was completely healthy after limping through his first two years. He earned second-team Group 4A All-State.

A unique list of schools lined up to take their shot. James Madison, Appalachian State, Marshall, Old Dominion and Texas State all offered. Then came academically guided pledges from Harvard, Yale and Bucknell.

Finally, UVA offered, and, after contemplating a choice at JMU, the lure of one of the state’s major football powers was too much to turn down.

But now, Coach Haymore wants Kier to do more than catch, run and score – though he will not turn that down – he wants him to be a leader.

“On offense, on defense, everywhere. He’s got to lead us now,” Haymore said.

Gone is versatile back Nazeeh Johnson, who is a walk-on defensive back at Marshall who is trying to make the traveling squad. Johnson rushed for 1,093 yards last year to give Haymore a combustible pair to put his shot-gun, Wing-T into action.

Obviously Kier, who said he would like his team to win the state championship and that he wanted to average 150 yards per game on the ground, will be even more productive.

Without quarterback Mark Paxton from ’15, Haymore is looking at speedy Noah Robinson, a sophomore, and junior Kaiseem Simms, Kier’s cousin.

“I like a quarterback who can run, but you’ve got to be balanced too,” Haymore said.

Several Millbrook baseball players have returned to spots on the football team they vacated for a year. Conor Hartigan made 64 tackles as a sophomore linebacker. Another diamond man, Zach Rogers, has also returned to the fall sport.

Meanwhile, all-conference second-teamer Dwayne Shank will anchor both lines.

“We like our athletes to play two and three sports at our school,” said Haymore, “It keeps our kids competitive and all the coaches are for it.”