The 2011 season was a memorable one for the Bishop Ireton football team.
There were highs — achieving the first 7-0 start in school history and eventually reaching the playoffs. And there were lows — surrendering a 99-yard hook-and-lateral touchdown on fourth-and-16 with less than a minute remaining, which led to a playoff loss to St. Christopher’s. In the end, the Cardinals finished 8-3, posting the second-best single-season win total of head coach Tony Verducci’s tenure.
After the season, Verducci informed his players of a trend. After each successful season during his time with the Cardinals, next year’s team followed with a sub-.500 record. The 2012 Cardinals entered the season with hopes of breaking the pattern.
The result was nine straight losses to open the season and a 1-9 overall record.
If history repeats itself, Ireton is in line for a strong 2013 campaign. But if the Cardinals are to return to the sunny side of .500, they’ll have to do so despite the loss of a three-year starting quarterback and a new defensive scheme.
“I think it’s a group capable of having a winning season,” Verducci said. “I think your first goal is to have a winning season and your second goal is to hope that you’ve won enough games that you qualify for the independent school playoffs.”
Senior linebacker Hudson Sullivan is one of a small group of Cardinals who were significant varsity contributors during the good times of 2011 and the rough 2012 season. Sullivan said this year’s group is off to a promising start.
“After sophomore year, because we lost [a] really close [game] in the playoffs, I wanted to come right back and take it to them as a team, but the whole team focus and everything last year wasn’t there,” Sullivan said. “We had a bunch of kids that joined just to play seniors season and they were more thinking about the parties after and not really thinking about the season. … The whole team focus this year is totally different.”
“Hudson’s a guy who from Day 1 distinguished himself as a very physically gifted football player. Throughout the course of our spring and our summer workouts, his presence raises the level of intensity and it gives everybody else to aspire to.”
— Bishop Ireton football coach Tony Verducci
Sullivan (6 feet 2, 220 pounds) is the leader of an Ireton defense that has switched from a 3-4 scheme to a 3-5-3 in hopes of being more physical against the run. Sullivan, who has received scholarship offers from Delaware, James Madison, New Hampshire and Richmond, moves from outside linebacker to “Mike” linebacker.
“Hudson’s a guy who from Day 1 distinguished himself as a very physically gifted football player,” Verducci said. “Throughout the course of our spring and our summer workouts, his presence raises the level of intensity and it gives everybody else to aspire to.”
Senior linebacker Dylan Espinoza (5-11, 210) and junior linebacker Josh Ammon (6-0, 200), a transfer from John Champe High School in Loudoun County, will also be significant contributors in the Cardinals’ 3-5-3 scheme, which is coached by new defensive coordinator Jerton Evans, a former standout safety at the University of Virginia who spent time with the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills.
“Coach Evans,” Ammon said, “has made the transition real easy.”
Senior Taylor Dean (6-6, 245) and junior Andre Robinson (6-0, 225) will see time on the defensive line.
On offense, juniors Andrew Latrash (5-11, 190) and Michael McGregor (6-1, 170), a transfer from John Champe, are competing for the quarterback position vacated by former three-year starter PJ Zingler. At running back, Sullivan, sophomore Alex Duke (5-11, 170) and junior Nigel Bullard (5-10, 190), who transferred from Hayfield, will likely see carries. Junior Drew Smith (6-2, 165) and senior Max Sanasack (6-3, 180) are receiving threats.
Dean is an O-line standout at right tackle.
Ireton will play its first four games of the season at home, starting with its opener against Park View at 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30. The Cardinals will follow with games against Bishop O’Connell (Sept. 7), St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes (Sept. 14) and Episcopal (Sept. 21).