Senior linebacker Tevin Isley and junior center Aaron Tovsky stood on the field after practice at Parker-Gray Stadium and discussed how T.C. Williams’ 2009 season affected its future. The Titans won five games for the first time since 1996 and fell one victory short of the program’s first playoff berth since 1990.
We want "to continue on the way we did last year, build up on that," Isley said. A "5-5 [record] was good. But we don’t want to be average, we want to be great."
Tovsky added: "I definitely feel at the end of last year and this year we feel like we deserve to be in the playoffs, [but] we haven’t proven anything, yet. We need to start stepping up."
While head coach Dennis Randolph likely appreciates the enthusiasm, he’s hesitant to say the Titans learned anything, or have improved as a program, from nearly ending a long postseason drought.
"I’ll let you know when the season starts," the fourth-year TC coach said. "I don’t think anything carries over into the preseason. It’s hard to gauge that momentum. We’re certainly looking forward to coming into the season."
T.C. WILLIAMS’ 2010 season starts at 5 p.m. on Sept. 2 with a home game against Patriot District foe Robinson. While the Titans are eager to get back on the field, their season once again starts with injury problems. Last year, starting quarterback Joe Hargrove missed seven games after breaking his right arm during a scrimmage against Centreville. This year, several key players will miss at least one game, including Division I offensive tackle recruit Jay Whitmire (ankle), free safety Israel Richardson (knee) and linebacker Deontre Sanders (concussion). But while TC will miss the talent, none of the injuries will impact the team’s game plan the way Hargrove’s injury did. Hargrove’s arm strength allowed the Titans to stretch the field and put more pressure on a defense.
"We’re better off going into the Robinson game than we were last year," Randolph said. "We [had] just lost Joe. The day after, Joe is at the hospital and now we’ve really got to change some things. [Quarterback] Doug [Murphy] was there last year and John [Bray], and they were very different than Joe. We really had to re-examine what we were doing. This year, we think with the way that we’re supposed to run the spread, we have two quarterbacks than can do it."
THE TWO QUARTERBACKS in charge of the Titans’ spread offense are Murphy (5 feet 10, 148 pounds), a senior, and sophomore Alec Grosser (6-2, 162). Murphy has the advantage in experience, playing three full varsity games last season. Grosser has the stronger arm.
"Doug brings a little bit more experience. He brings a little more ‘been there, done that,’" Randolph said. "He’s probably a little ahead of the game on reading defenses and knowing where the ball is supposed to go.
"Alec has a gun. He has a live arm. I think we can go deep with him a little better then we can with Doug. Doug has the ability to throw the ball, too, in certain spots, he just doesn’t have the raw arm strength that Alec has."
Injuries have led to six players getting a look at running back. Randolph said the team will use a committee approach with junior Zaquan Summers (5-7, 150), senior Mbari Casey (5-9, 155), junior Raquan Brunson (5-7, 160), junior Jalani Winbush (5-6, 153), sophomore Dealo Roberson (5-8, 166) and junior Mohamed Sesay (5-7, 176) potentially seeing time.
In the passing game, Randolph said senior Will Rossi (5-10, 163) is "our best receiver right now." Junior Percy Haskins (6-0, 158) and senior Tyrell Sitton (6-0, 174) are also pass-catching threats.
Whitmire (6-6, 285), a senior, is the offensive line’s lynchpin at right tackle. He has double-digit Division I scholarship offers, but will miss at least one game after suffering a grade 2 sprain of his left ankle during an Aug. 26 scrimmage against Centreville. Senior Spencer Mitchell (5-11, 247) was slated to start at right guard, but might miss time with a knee injury. Tovsky (6-1, 202), a junior, enters his third season as the team’s starting center. Senior Anthony Zamora (5-11, 241) will start at left guard and junior Jose Urritia (6-3, 224) will start at left tackle.
Defensively, the Titans will shift from a 4-4 scheme to a 4-3. Defensive coordinator Mike Gamble said the defense discussed its expectations, which included shutting out each opponent.
"That’s a pretty lofty expectation," he said, "but that’s what we expect. That’s what they expect, as well."
Gamble also said the defense is looking to get in the end zone.
"We want to score points on defense, as well," he said. "Not only shut teams down, but create offense ourselves. Our idea is that we’re going to take it upon ourselves to win football games."
Whitmire and senior Joe Massaquoi (6-4, 226) are the team’s starting defensive ends. Senior Eric Berger (5-10, 298) will start at one tackle spot and junior Malik Hackett (5-10, 246) has the inside track to start at the other.
Gamble said he expects Whitmire and Massaquoi to be team leaders and for Berger to fulfill his potential.
"Eric Berger has really stepped up for us," Gamble said. "He’s had a very good camp. We’ve had a lot of expectations for him for a few years now, and he’s finally starting to live up to them a little bit."
Gamble expected big things from his linebacking corps this season, but injuries and off-field issues have depleted the group. Isley (6-0, 211) returns as one of the defense’s top players. Sanders (5-10, 240), a senior, made the switch from defensive line to linebacker, but will miss at least one game after suffering a concussion in the preseason. Senior Damien Benton, who Gamble called one of the best linebackers in the region, practiced with the team early in the preseason but has missed time for personal reasons. Juniors Ed Massaquoi (5-10, 203) and Najee Surratt (5-7, 150) have filled in at linebacker.
Richardson (5-10, 182), a senior, is expected to miss several weeks with a knee injury. Filling in at safety has been junior Clifton Cooper (6-4, 178). Rossi, junior Deomontae Rice (5-10, 165) and senior Travon Porter (5-7, 150) could also see time in the secondary.
Manuel Benites (6-0, 158) is the team’s kicker. Randolph said the junior is capable of making field goals from just outside of 50 yards.
The Titans host Mount Vernon on Sept. 11 and travel to face Oakton on Sept. 16 before returning to Patriot District play with a road game against Lake Braddock on Sept. 24.
Whether the Titans have what it takes to break a playoff drought of nearly two decades will be decided on the field. Until then, one Titan veteran is confident the team has what it takes.
"I hate it when people underestimate us," Tovsky said. "I don’t like thinking that anyone else is better than I am at anything. I feel like every single person should feel like that."