Virginia's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Virginia Preseason Top 10
1. Ocean Lakes Dolphins (Virginia Beach)
The Dolphins ended a banner 2012 season on a down note, falling in the Group AAA Division 6 championship game. That four-point loss to L.C. Bird should be plenty of motivation for starting quarterback Walter “Churchie” Harold and 1,000-yard running back Brandon Simmons, who return to bolster the offense. On defense, lineman Derrick Nnadi anchors a unit that recorded six regular-season shutouts and held 14 of 15 opponents to 15 or fewer points.
2. C.D. Hylton Bulldogs (Woodbridge)
The Bulldogs, state semifinalists last season, welcome back Travon McMillian, a dual-threat quarterback who threw for 1,313 yards, ran for 1,194 yards and accounted for 28 TDs as a junior. Lineman Brian Roberts and defensive back Lawrence Hunt also could help Hylton challenge for its first state title since 2002.
3. Oscar Smith Tigers (Chesapeake)
After the Tigers missed the state tournament for only the second time in six seasons, prized lineman Andrew Brown and 1,000-yard back DeShawn McClease hope to spearhead a return to form for a team that won state titles in 2008 and 2011.
4. Lake Taylor Titans (Norfolk)
Blue-chip recruit Jalyn Holmes, a tight end and defensive end, joins a host of returners from a Titans squad that last season finished 15–0 and won the school’s first state championship.
5. Lloyd C. Bird Skyhawks (Chesterfield)
The Skyhawks won their first Group AAA Division 6 state championship, carried by 2,000-yard rusher Paul Robertson, who graduated. But quarterback Terrance Ervin (1,549 passing yards, 23 TDs) and most of his receiving corps are back.
6. Phoebus Phantoms (Hampton)
The Phantoms’ running game got an unexpected offseason boost when running back Marshawn Williams, a Virginia Tech recruit, transferred from cross-town rival Hampton. And Phoebus has motivation after falling short of a fifth straight state title.
7. Hermitage Panthers (Richmond)
Dapper coach Patrick Kane, who sports a red tie during games, must replace Michigan-bound star running back Derrick Green. But he has stout lineman Marius Young and the motivation of a surprising loss in last year’s playoff opener.
8. Stone Bridge Bulldogs (Ashburn)
The Bulldogs rolled into the state championship game unbeaten before a heartbreaking six-point loss — the team’s fourth in a state final since 2005. Playmaker D’Ante Yarborough, a 1,000-yard receiver last season, and lineman Connor Smith are back.
9. Lake Braddock Bruins (Burke)
The dynamic pass-and-catch combo of quarterback Caleb Henderson and wide receiver Aramis Alexander have the Bruins eyeing a trip to the state tournament for the first time since a championship game appearance in 2009.
10. Briar Woods Falcons (Ashburn)
Quarterback Trace McSorley has guided the Falcons to three consecutive state titles. But McSorley’s quest for a four-peat will have to come in a more competitive division after the state’s realignment for 2013.
Five Can't Miss Matchups
9.6 – Oscar Smith at Lake Taylor
This season opener matches perennial Southeastern Virginia powers who haven’t played in years. Oscar Smith won Group AAA Division 6 state crowns in 2008 and ’11, while Lake Taylor was 15-0 and won its first Group AAA Division 5 state title last season.
9.27 – Phoebus vs. Hampton
The cross-town rivals often hook up at Darling Stadium during the regular season to decide the Peninsula District title before a trip to the state tournament. Hampton (1995-98) and Phoebus (2008-11) are the only Virginia teams to win four straight state titles.
9.27 – Gate City at Union
A name change — Powell Valley became Union in 2011 — hasn’t diminished this rivalry between two small schools tucked into the southwest corner of the state near the Tennessee border. The teams played for the first time in 1959.
10.18 – Woodbridge at C.D. Hylton
These neighborhood rivals square off in a regular-season game that features two of the state’s top recruits on the field at the same time: Woodbridge defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand and Hylton quarterback Travon McMillian.
11.9 – Woodberry Forest at Episcopal
These boarding schools played for the first time in 1901, and more than 100 years later the rivalry — referred to simply as “The Game” — is still going strong.
2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Caleb Henderson, QB, Lake Braddock (Burke)
Senior, 6-4, 223
Henderson has ripped defenses for more than 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, and he’s not finished. Henderson, committed to North Carolina, returns for his senior season after throwing for 2,435 yards and leading Lake Braddock to the playoffs as a junior. He threw for 240 or more yards six times in 2012, including a season-high 310, and added some versatility with 453 yards and nine touchdowns rushing. In two seasons as a starter, Henderson has thrown 46 touchdown passes. Henderson “has a howitzer for an arm,” Lake Braddock coach Jim Poythress said. “Scan the high school ranks and that is not often seen. On top of that, he can run well enough to be elusive in the pocket and to gain some yards if things break down. Then, when you consider he is a coach’s son, you get an intangible that should only help.”
2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Da’Shawn Hand, DE, Woodbridge
Senior, 6-4, 255
Karibi Dede has yet to coach Hand in a game, but he’s already impressed. Dede, hired after last season, has gotten to know Hand during the offseason and has watched plenty of film on his star pupil. “The first thing about him is on the field he has a dominating presence,” Dede says. “It doesn’t matter where he lines up on the defensive front. He’s a kid who’s like a man among boys, and he’s a physical kid who delivers a punishing blow.” Hand delivered plenty of them last season despite drawing constant attention from offensive linemen. He had 78 solo tackles, including 28 for a loss, and collected 16 sacks. That followed an 84-tackle, 21-sack sophomore season. Dede can’t wait to get a first-hand look before Hand graduates and moves on to one of his college suitors. “He’s a phenomenal and unique player,” the coach says.
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