QUICKSBURG – Rion Dennison knows how to play just about every position on the football field.
The Stonewall Jackson senior has been used in many different roles in the last two seasons for the Generals. First-year Stonewall Jackson head football coach Kyle Kokkonen said that Dennison’s versatility will be big for the Generals this season.
“It’s helpful, especially as we’re figuring stuff out,” Kokkonen said. “Getting started in a new season, not only with all this (COVID-19 pandemic) craziness but then new schemes and stuff like that. It’s nice to have somebody that is comfortable in whatever role we need him in.”
There have been times on offense where Dennison has played quarterback, running back and wide receiver all in the same game. Dennison’s versatility on offense actually started in his youth league days.
Dennison said that, due to being older and bigger than some of the other kids, he had to play on the offensive line for two years and it has helped him a lot.
“You definitely appreciate them a little bit more, that’s a plus,” Dennison said. “But also playing on the line and then going to running back you have that sense of what the line is going to do from then on. You get the ball and you’re like, ‘OK I know he’s going to go this way.’ So you get a better feel for the game.”
As a freshman, Dennison said he saw limited time on the varsity squad. He mostly played on the junior varsity team. He said the little bit of experience he had that season definitely helped him for his sophomore season.
“My first varsity game was against Central,” Dennison said. “I was worried. I had the stomach butterflies. But then the next year I knew exactly how varsity was, so I was pumped and ready to go.”
Dennison’s sophomore year didn’t go as he thought it would – he ended up being an even bigger part of the team than he thought. That was his first time playing three different positions on offense. The Generals ran the triple-option offense and Dennison played a big part in it due to some injuries on the squad.
“That year was crazy,” Dennison said. “We had people dropping like flies from injuries, it was crazy. At practice, I never knew what I was going to be doing. (Former Stonewall Jackson head coach Pete Lampman) would be like. ‘we need you to play at quarterback today.’ I’d be like, ‘alright, I’m learning a new position here.’ The next week they’re like, ‘you’re going to run some wide receiver, see how that works.’ Then, in the middle of the game, (Lampman) would have me switch positions in the middle of the game. It was crazy, but you get a lot of experience of being able to switch and play both sides and different positions.”
As a sophomore, Dennison threw for 108 yards with two touchdowns. He also ran for 263 yards on 91 carries and had one touchdown. As a receiver, he had three receptions for 79 yards. He also played at free safety, cornerback and linebacker on defense. He finished the season with 11 tackles. Dennison also did some punting and had five punts on the season.
Last year, it was more of the same for Dennison, who again played at three different offensive positions at times for the Generals.
Dennison threw for 172 yards and had one touchdown. He ran for a team-best 527 yards and had five scores. He also caught two passes for 34 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, he had 35 tackles and three sacks. He was the team’s placekicker and punter, averaging 27.4 yards per punt.
Dennison said that he felt like last year was a good year for him, and he said he’s watched film and is looking for things he could do better.
“I think we did pretty good last year,” he said. “Me in general, I can only do so much with everybody else. So I think overall that we did pretty good.”
One of the big highlights for Dennison and his teammates last year was winning two games.
The Generals snapped a 41-game losing streak on Sept. 27, 2019, with a 31-0 win over Rappahannock County. It was Stonewall’s first win since Sept. 25, 2015.
“It was amazing,” Dennison said of the win. “The most hyped, exciting game we ever played was against Rapp. It was the first time in our school that people actually believed in us. After school was let out we were going to get peanut butter and jelly like we do every game and I remember about five of us were running down the hallways, jumping, like pushing each other around. That was probably the best game that we ever had and probably the most exciting.”
Two weeks later, the Generals defeated Madison County, 30-27. The Generals trailed 14-8 at the half but scored 22 points in the third quarter to rally for the victory. Dennison had 164 yards rushing in the game and three touchdowns. He also threw for 61 yards and a score.
Dennison said his favorite touchdown of his career happened in the win.
“I ran a quarterback sweep, basically,” he said. “I still watch it on film today. I put it on every social media page. I love it. I ran through just about everybody. It was just a hole and it was just good vision on my part.”
His senior season has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dennison said he’s excited about it even if it’s a short season.
“I think it’s going to be good for us,” he said. “We have a small team, but I think we gained in athleticism, just not height.”
Dennison said he’s also trying to be even more of a leader this season.
“I’ve been looked up to before, like last year,” he said. “But this year I’m actually a senior. So this year I just want everybody else to have the mindset that I’ve had. Watch me play. I’ve been giving tips out here on how to do stuff. We have a lot of new kids, so you have to give those. I like that the younger guys look up to the upperclassmen. I’m just going to do as much as I can with it.”
The first day of practice is Feb. 4. The Generals open their six-game regular season at home with East Rockingham on Feb. 27.
Stonewall Jackson is switching to a new offense this year, instead of the triple-option offense they’ve been using. Kokkonen said that he wasn’t sure exactly what type of offense they were going to use, but he did anticipate that Dennison will be playing at running back in some capacity.
“He’s a big back,” Kokkonen said. “I think if we can get him in the right direction he should be a physical back for us, hopefully, which I think is something we need and is tone-setting and to keep our drive’s going. But not only is he big, but he’s pretty quick, which helps us a lot and opens us up to different things.”
Dennison said he’s not sure where he might attend college next year and said he’s hoping to play football at the next level. He said he will be taking a visit to North Carolina Wesleyan College in the next few weeks.
Dennison said knowing it’s his last season of high school football makes him want to have the best season yet.
“It pushes you,” he said. “You get that adrenaline rush. Like just now talking about it I’m getting chills because it’s my senior year. You get hyped up and you want to show something of yourself. You want to stand out. So it’s definitely going to be a big adrenaline rush for me.”