The T.C. Williams football program has missed the playoffs for 20 straight seasons.
Each of the last two years, the Titans have come painfully close to ending the drought, only to fall short. In 2009, TC needed to beat Lee at home on the last day of the regular season to secure a postseason berth. The Titans came out flat, fell behind 20-0 and failed in their attempt at a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback.
Last season, TC posted its first winning record since 1995, won five of its final six games and finished 5-2 in the Patriot District, but a 6-4 mark wasn’t enough to get the Titans in the postseason.
For whatever reason, TC wasn’t able to get over the hump the last two seasons despite rosters oozing with talent. Injuries to key players, including quarterback Joe Hargrove and Division I linemen Jay Whitmire and Joe Massaquoi, hindered the team, adding fuel to the what-could-have-been fire.
This year, TC again appears to have the talent necessary to make a run at the postseason, but the Titans need to find a way to rise above mediocrity. If leadership was lacking amidst past failures, TC might turn the corner in 2011.
Along with an offseason conditioning regiment that left coaches praising the Titans’ work ethic, junior quarterback Alec Grosser took it upon himself to organize work sessions with receivers to help build camaraderie among those in charge of putting a spark in the Titans’ passing game.
"I called some of our receivers and just told them to be out here an hour and a half before our [team] workout," Grosser said. "We worked on routes, we worked on little things [and I was building] chemistry with my guys."
Running back Za’Quan Summers took part in the Grosser-organized workouts.
"It says a lot" about Grosser’s leadership ability, Summers said. "He can lead the team, I can tell you that. He’s very vocal."
Grosser showed off his cannon arm as a sophomore when he took over the starting job four games into the season. He helped TC average 31 points during the final six games of the year and finished the season with 1,240 passing yards and twice as many touchdown passes (14) as interceptions (seven) in TC’s potent spread offense. He also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Grosser has the physical tools to be successful, but it’s his willingness to learn that helps make him a well-rounded signal caller.
"He listens. He gets it," TC head coach Dennis Randolph said. "He knows that he has to pay attention to what I’m telling him. Whether or not I’m the best coach in the world or the worst coach in the world, he’s got to trust me and he’s got to listen to me and listen to the things that I’m teaching him — and he does. He listens to everything I say. … I’m really happy that I have somebody that wants to be good, that wants to listen, that wants to be successful and he’s trusting me to teach him the right things."
Grosser will have plenty of help this season. Big things are expected from Summers, who rushed for 830 yards and eight touchdowns last year while averaging more than 6.5 yards per carry. The speedy running back said he wants to rush for 2,000 yards in 2011, reach the end zone at least two times per game and return at least one kickoff for a touchdown each contest.
"We hand off to him and you watch him and he’s so fluid and he seems to make the right decision every time," Randolph said of Summers. "Then when you hand off to another guy who’s a good back, it’s not the same."
Mohamed Sesay and Dealo Roberson could also see carries this season.
At receiver, Percy Haskins, Jamal Williams and Raquan Brunson are playmakers. Julius Cooper, a transfer from Paul VI, has the size and skill to be a difference-maker.
There are questions along the offensive line, which lost DI contributors Whitmire and Massaquoi to graduation. However, both missed significant time with injuries last season, meaning the Titans were forced to adapt. Left tackle Jose Urrutia, left guard Michael Crockett and center Aaron Tovsky, a four-year starter, bring stability to the line, but the right guard and right tackle positions are still up for grabs.
Urrutia said the offensive linemen need to be aggressive.
"Any guy we go against," he said, "we’ve got to punch first. We’ve got to hit them in the mouth."
Tovsky said the Titans are working with a higher level of intensity.
"I feel like everyone knows what it takes to win now since we were so close last year," Tovsky said. "We know we have to take the next step."
Defensively, Demetry Johnson, Malik Hackett and Urrutia could make an impact along the line. Linebackers Ed Massaquoi, Sesay and Roberson, and defensive backs Najee Surratt, Deamonte Rice and Jalani Winbush should be major contributors for the Titans.
On special teams, Manuel Benites is once again a weapon for the Titans as a kicker and a punter. Randolph is confident in Benites’ ability to put kickoffs in the end zone and connect on long field goal attempts.
"If we cross the [opponent’s] 40-yard line, we’re not punting," Randolph said. "I’m not going to punt. I’m going to try to put three on the board."
TC will compete in the Queen City Quad scrimmage at Fort Hill High School at 3 p.m. on Aug. 20, and will host a scrimmage against Herndon at 5 p.m. on Aug. 25. The Titans will open the regular season at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 1 on the road against Wakefield. TC’s first home game is at 1 p.m. on Sept. 17 against Robinson.
Ending the 20-year playoff drought "would be awesome," Tovsky said. "Obviously, there’s a little bit of history that comes along with playing at T.C. Williams, and that’s a pretty cool thing, so to be able to get the tradition going again and be known as the group that did it would be a pretty cool thing."