Mount Vernon High football coach Barry Wells had a good feeling about his new team right from the start this season. The first-year head coach, whose Majors saw their 2010 season end with a playoff loss to South Lakes last Friday night in Reston, said he knew upon meeting with his squad for the first time several months ago that they had the make-up of a good team. In 2009, the Majors experienced a dismal 0-10 season under previous head coach Tom Glynn. But Wells was positive about a turnaround from the start.
"We went into the season cautiously optimistic. After 0-10 you really don't know what to expect," said Wells, an assistant high school football coach in New Jersey for 10 years prior to becoming the Mount Vernon head coach. "But from the first day I met the kids, I really didn't think we were an 0-10 team. I thought we might surprise some people."
The challenge to respectability was far from easy for the Majors, who opened the season with lopsided losses to local Alexandria area rivals West Potomac, 55-20, and T.C. Williams, 45-14. But Mount Vernon came back in week three to beat Edison at home, 14-6, in a National District game played on Sept. 16. The win over the Eagles was the first Mount Vernon victory since the 2008 season. Then, the following week, the Majors improved to 2-2 with a 17-14 district win at Stuart.
Losses to both Centreville and Hayfield had Mount Vernon sitting at 2-4 with a month remaining in the regular season. But the Majors won three of their next four games — the wins coming over Washington-Lee, 37-20, Falls Church, 20-13, and Wakefield, 41-21, and the setback coming in week nine to Yorktown, 28-14, with the district title on the line — to conclude the regular schedule with a 5-5 record, a huge improvement from the year before.
"When you're 0-10 [the year before] a lot of things have to be re-tooled," said Wells. "A lot of it was psyche. That was a very hard [challenge] for me. I took this job with the understanding that I would be relentless [in the pursuit of seeing the team improve]. I wanted to work to help restore Mount Vernon's tradition."
WHILE THE SEASON was a success overall, Wells said his team's postseason loss to South Lakes — a 39-0 shutout setback to the No. 4-seeded Seahawks in a Div. 5 Northern Region quarterfinals playoff matchup on Nov. 12 — was difficult to take.
"I felt similar to how I had felt after the [late season] Yorktown loss — for whatever reason, we didn't show up," said Wells, of the season-ending defeat at the hands of coach Andy Hill's South Lakes squad, members of the Liberty District. "We were moving the ball early on but had a [lost] fumble on that first drive."
Mount Vernon trailed 8-0 after one quarter but had fallen behind 20-0 by halftime. South Lakes put up 13 more points in the third quarter to make the score 33-0 and put the game out of reach.
On the night, the run-oriented Mount Vernon offense was held to less than 100 yards rushing by the South Lakes defense. Dennis Mensah was the Majors’ top ball carrier with 48 yards. The visitors managed just 27 yards through the air as two Mount Vernon quarterbacks combined to go 3-for-12.
Meanwhile, South Lakes sophomore quarterback Rashaan Jones continued a marvelous first season as South Lakes' starting varsity signal caller by tossing three touchdown passes, including scoring strikes of 10 and 13 yards to wide receiver Sean Price, and running for another score in his team's playoff win. Jones' fourth quarter 40-yard touchdown pass to junior Stan Lindsay capped the night's highlight play reel for the home team.
The win improved South Lakes' record to 8-3 on the season and advanced them to the semifinals.
"I thought our defense played extremely well, as they have any time we put up a shutout, but they were dominant at times," said Hill. "Mount Vernon came in with a very good running attack and a decent passing game that could keep us off-balance."
Wells said he has received lots of congratulatory compliments in regards to Mount Vernon's five-win season and the impressive turnaround from the winless season before. But he also admitted to having a hard time shaking off the decisive loss to South Lakes.
"Everyone is telling me it was a great season, to go from 0-10 to 5-5," said Wells. "But right now, personally, it's hard to brush that [playoff defeat] aside. South Lakes is a good ball club, well coached with talented players."
Wells is optimistic about the future of the Mount Vernon program and he looks forward to coaching the team next year and thereafter. He expressed gratitude for having been given the opportunity to pilot the Majors.
"I wouldn't trade this opportunity for anything," he said. "Mount Vernon was kind enough, gracious enough to afford me my first opportunity ever as a head coach."