by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
Red Devils varsity football coach Draper Washington is asking a lot from a few.
At Lancaster High School, the low number struggle is real. Washington and his coaching staff suit up only 25 players. Nine of those are freshmen and four are sophomores.
“Our biggest problem is the fact that we just don’t have the numbers,” said Washington, a second-year head coach coming off a one-win season. “We have to figure out a way to play hard all four quarters and that’s hard when we are asking the same group of guys to play both ways and stay on the field the whole time.”
Last year all that two-way play resulted in a lot of injuries, several to key players including Washington’s quarterbacks and running backs. Staying injury free is going to be critical this year.
“One big problem last year was the injury thing,” said Washington. “We were just trying to get through the season by the time we got to the last two or three games.
“I just hope and pray we can stay healthy this year.”
Washington only returns seven starters, including four on offense. Among them is senior workhorse Chris Dameron, who was the rushing leader in the Northern Neck District in 2016 with over 1,200 total yards. Last year, Dameron only put in half a season after sustaining an injury in the third game of the season. He returned for the final two. Keeping him off the sideline and in the game is going to be key, said Washington. Dameron will be the go-to running back but “we don’t want to have to rely on Chris 85% of the time. We can’t do that,” said Washington.
Senior running back and receiver Tahlik Redmond will get a lot of totes.
“Tahlik proved last year he can run in between the tackles and can go one-on-one with anybody,” said Washington. “He’s also a pass threat out of the backfield.”
Junior Cameron Towles will also get a lot of carries.
Handing off this season will be senior quarterback Tae Veney.
Veney is new to the role and returns to the playing field after three years off. He last played as a junior varsity wide receiver.
Washington lost all three of his quarterbacks from last season, including graduated seniors Tafari Wall and Darius Reed. Wall started but didn’t finish the season after sustaining a shoulder injury. Reed finished out the year. In between, Adam Wilmore saw some time under center.
“Tae has never played quarterback but he’s an athlete, so all you have to do is teach him the basics and send him out there,” said Washington.
Freshman Zachary Rhodes will back up Veney.
Although Veney is mobile, Washington says his job will be to “get the ball in the hands of the playmakers and hope they can make the plays.”
One of those playmakers is returning senior receiver Benjamin “BJ” Lee. He’ll be playing catch with Veney along with senior receiver Javian Robinson, junior receiver Xavier Sutton and senior tight end Elijah Palmer.
“The goal is to get these guys in a one-on-one situation and let their speed make the [defenders] miss a tackle,” said Washington.
As always one of the big questions at LHS is the offensive line. Senior left guard Kendrick Ross is the only returner. He’ll be joined by junior right guard Troy Cox, sophomore right tackle Daniel Smith and freshman left tackle Tate Wilmore.
“Tate’s got a work ethic you don’t see in a lot of ninth graders,” said Washington.
Snapping will be sophomore Elijah Wood-Laws.
“The line is young but they are smart and can figure things out in a hurry,” said Washington.
Doubling up on the line will be Ross, Cox and Smith. Ross will start as a tackle along with freshman Zachary Churchill. Smith and Cox will play on the ends.
Cameron returns to the stopping unit as an inside linebacker along with junior Carlos Norris. Playing at the strong safety will be Palmer and Lee returns as a weak safety.
Towles and Robinson will play on the corners and Veney downfield at free safety.
“What’s critical this year is getting that three stops and punting situation,” said Washington. “We’re just going to have to create some turnovers and try to capitalize on them.”
Lancaster’s defense gave up over 350 points last season.
Junior Jonte Milton will handle the kicking/punting duties, while Sutton and Redmond will be the return men.