The biggest question mark for the Herndon High football team going into this season is its line strength on both sides of the football. The Hornets received stellar offensive and defensive line play last year, a big factor in the program qualifying for the Northern Region Div. 6 playoffs for the first time since 2003.
But Herndon lost numerous linemen to graduation last spring. Thus, a focus for head coach Joe Sheaffer and his staff during the recent training camp and preseason was to start putting together quality lines with relatively inexperienced varsity players.
“We have a lot of concerns, mostly on the offensive and defensive lines,” said Sheaffer. “We’re really inexperienced there.”
The coach said finding the right players and cohesive mix on both sides of the line might take several weeks into the start of regular season.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” said the coach, on how his newer varsity linemen will fare. “It might take us two or three weeks to see which kids will help us the most.”
Herndon, coming off last year’s 6-5 season, is scheduled to open the ’09 campaign on Thursday night (Sept. 3) of this week with a game at Thomas Jefferson High in Alexandria. Kickoff is set for 7:30.
“This week we’ve talked about taking care of business preparation-wise,” said Sheaffer, of his team’s build-up for the season’s first game. “We’ve had tough games with [Jefferson] in the past.”
Herndon, while it will be youthful on the lines, has good experience returning at other positions. In all, the Hornets have about 12 returning players back on the team on offense and defense combined. Sheaffer said he has outstanding talent at the skill positions (QB, running back, receivers, defensive secondary).
“The skill positions are not an issue,” said Sheaffer. “We’ve got lots of depth there.”
ONE OF THE TOP returning skill position players is senior quarterback Zack Ozycz, who will be starting his third varsity year at signal caller. The 6-foot-4 inch, 205-pound Ozycz has gotten better each season and had a terrific training camp.
“He throws the ball real well and is the leader on the football team,” said Sheaffer.”He’s getting better and throwing better every year. He’s a capable passer and runner.”
Other key returning players this season include safety/running back Devon Thompson, a Second Team All-Concorde District selection last year at safety; tailback/linebacker Austin Moore; receiver Nick Impellizzeri, a Second Team All-District selection last year; running back/defensive back Randell Anane, a First Team All-District defensive back in ‘08; and running back/linebacker Sam Groter.
Last year was a breakthrough season of sorts for Herndon because it qualified for the region playoffs for the first time in five years. The team’s biggest win of the year came in a 29-28 homecoming triumph over Westfield late in the season. That victory improved Herndon to 6-2. But the Hornets lost their next three games, including a playoff setback to the same Westfield team it had beaten in the regular season. Sheaffer was disappointed the 2008 Hornets did not play better over the final few weeks of the season. He said the team lost its game preparation focus after the win over the Bulldogs and never recaptured the same magic thereafter.
The Hornets are hoping to get off to a fast start this season. Following this week’s opener with Jefferson, Herndon will play its first home game next Friday (Sept. 11) against McLean. Then, on Thursday, Sept. 17, Herndon will be on the road at cross-town rival South Lakes.