Shortly after the Washington-Lee football team defeated Yorktown in the 2013 regular-season finale, securing the Generals’ first district title in nearly four decades, head coach Josh Shapiro said members of the W-L program weren’t the only ones enjoying the accomplishment.
“It’s a community win,” Shapiro said after the Generals defeated Yorktown 10-0, giving W-L its first district championship since 1975. “The community that we work in and love and embrace is successful, but when you carry something like this on your shoulders for 30 years, it weighs on them. I think it’s leveling the playing field, saying hey, we can compete with the best. I think it’s a huge uplift for the school and the Washington-Lee community.”
Washington-Lee graduated more than 20 seniors from the team that helped break through the district-championship barrier. Gone are quarterback Sam Appel, who made 31 starts over three seasons, and defensive lineman Peter Griffin, who was a disruptive force during the victory over Yorktown. However, a new-found confidence, along with the return of running back Daquay Harris and multiple starters along the offensive line have the Generals thinking repeat.
“I feel like [winning the district title] makes us want it even more,” Harris said. “… That was a great feeling last season and we just want to do it all over again.”
Harris ran for 227 yards in last year’s win over Yorktown. Now a senior, the 5-foot-9, 155-pound running back figures to be the focal point of the Generals’ offense.
“He’s fast, he’s intuitive and he’s tough,” Shapiro said. “… Everything to him [comes naturally].”
Shapiro is also confident in the group assigned to open holes for Harris. Starting along the offensive line will be senior left tackle Ganzorig Batbold, junior left guard Justin Robinson, senior center Jeff Kruger, senior right guard Jose Perdomo and junior right tackle Mick Appel.
Senior Ronnie Fecso takes over at quarterback, replacing three-year starter Sam Appel.
“I like Ronnie a lot,” Shapiro said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s had a good spring in passing league. He’s had a good camp. It’s going to be difficult to replace a kid like Appel, who started for 31 games, but we’re not asking him to be Sam, we’re asking him to be Ronnie.”
Fecso said the Generals are eager to face the challenge of trying to repeat.
“That was a special team last year,” he said. “We have big shoes to fill, but I think we’re up to the challenge. We all know what we have to do, we know the work we have to put in and we can’t wait.”
Seniors Bled Aliu and Will Kelsch will see time at receiver.
While the offense appears strong, defense is a question mark for the Generals. W-L returns just four starters on the defensive side of the ball, led by senior middle linebacker Matt Ellis.
“He’s an absolute stud,” Shapiro said. “… He’s my best player.”
Junior safety Seneca Espinoza, senior defensive lineman Sean Matthews and senior cornerback Harris are also back. Matthews is returning from a knee injury.
“I think it’s definitely a morale boost,” Ellis said of last year’s district title. “Personally, I’m excited for the season and we’ve been working a lot in the offseason to keep that level of intensity.”
W-L opens the season at home against McLean at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 5. While winning the 2013 National District title has boosted confidence, Shapiro said the team can’t rest on its laurels.
“That was a senior class where we had 25 guys graduate, so these guys were a part of it, but they have to chart their own course,” he said. “… I think it does help the confidence. The school as a whole embraced it and enjoyed it. It’s something that we wanted to do as a team goal from Day 1, but it wasn’t anything that came easy.”