The William Byrd Terriers hope to have better success during the football season than they’ve had with the weather. Last Thursday, for the second week in a row, the Terriers had a lightning delay disrupt their scrimmage.
Thanks to the new artificial turf surface, Byrd was able to get their work in. The Terriers had only scrimmaged for about 20 minutes when thunder and lightning sent them to the locker room, and a torrential storm followed. The scrimmage was delayed for about an hour and a half, but when play resumed the field was just as good as it was at the 7 pm starting time and the scrimmage with Jefferson Forest resumed at around 9 o’clock.
“I asked coach (Bob) Christmas if he needed to leave and he said he needed the work. Our students still weren’t in school so we were able to make some progress. Jefferson Forest has a good team.”
The Cavaliers scored four times and Byrd scored three times in the scrimmage.
“We did some good things,” said Highfill. “They run the wishbone and it’s the closest thing we’ll see to Staunton River.”
The season starts for real this Friday when the Terriers play host to Cave Spring. It will be the first real game on the new turf at Patterson Stadium, and there will be a dedication ceremony prior to the game. The new field has a big “WB” in the middle and gone is the crest that was needed for drainage with the old grass field. On the old field, you could stand on one side and you couldn’t see below the knees of the players on the other side of the field.
“It’s beautiful,” said Highfill. “We really appreciate what our school board member, Tim Greenway, has done. I know he really pushed for this, and we also want to thank Mrs. (principal Tammy) Newcomb and (athletic director) Jason Taylor.”
Highfill has five starters back on offense and six on defense to put on that field, so basically half the starters will be new. The most acclaimed returnee is senior Larry Basham, who is setting records in his fourth year on the varsity. That’s saying something, as former Byrd player O.J. Thomasson holds the state rushing record with 7,536 yards.
Basham comes into the season second on Byrd’s all-time rushing list, and he’s already set the school career scoring record with a year to go. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to add to that as he’ll play tailback and occasionally see some time at quarterback and receiver. He’ll also return punts and kickoffs, where he’s extremely dangerous.
“He’s a threat to take it all the way every time he touches the ball,” said Highfill. “But this year we lost a lot of linemen, so that’s a concern.”
Larry will also play some on defense, so he won’t be off the field very often.
“We’d love to play him more on defense if he can hold up,” said Highfill.
Byrd will run their traditional “I formation” offense and the Terriers have three solid fullbacks to choose from. Seniors Logan Taylor and TJ Johnson are both good players and junior Nic Hale is also a tough back. And, they’re three of the four strongest players on the team.
Taylor, a four year starter and one of six Byrd captains, is the strongest player on the team and the best blocker. Johnson is quicker and the second strongest in the weight room, and Hale is the fourth strongest. Hale is also a captain.
“Once again the strongest kids on our team are in the backfield,” said Highfill.
If Basham needs a blow, or moves to a different spot, the three fullbacks also serve as backups to the tailback.
This year’s quarterback is junior Sam Dantzler, another captain. He won the job in summer practice with a strong challenge from sophomore Logan Baker.
“We had five guys try out for quarterback and it was a real good competition,” said Highfill. “Sam is smart and he’s a good decision maker. He played quarterback for us last year when Reece (Watson) had a broken hand.
Baker is a backup but he’s out with an injury to start the season, leaving freshman Dylan Hatfield as the first man up should Dantzler go down. He has a bright future and would be the jayvee starter under different circumstances.
“We need him to dress varsity, because he’s one play away from being the varsity quarterback,” said Highfill.
Junior Aaron Stanley returns at wide receiver with Caleb Hutchins as the backup. Byrd will go with two tight ends most of the time and Highfill has three good ones in seniors Trevor Hill and Terrell Smith and junior Thomas Adams. Hill and Adams are both captains and the three will rotate as they’re all key players on defense as well.
On the line, Byrd graduated five of the seven starters from last year when you count the tight ends. The only returnees are Matt Hale and Devin Flick, and they’ll be the tackles. Hale, the sixth captain, played center last year but he’s moving to right tackle. He’s a 260 pound junior and the third strongest player on the team. Flick is also a junior and he goes 230 at left tackle.
Sophomore Zach Figart is the right guard and junior Nate Loving is slated to start at left guard. Sophomore Robert Hurd is the center. Hurd, a 275 pounder, could flip with Loving on occasion, with Loving snapping the ball and Hurd moving to guard. Senior Austin Witt is the backup on a line short of depth.
On defense Johnson and Smith will start at the ends. TJ was a second team all-conference player on defense last year. Matt Hale and Flick are the tackles and Nic Hale is the nose guard, a position he’s well suited for. He’s strong and quick and can disrupt an offense.
Byrd is set at linebacker with Taylor in the middle. A four year starter on defense, he was second team all-region last year and he’s one of the best around.
Adams will start at one outside backer spot. Thomas was a starter last year and lettered as a freshman. He gets to the ball quickly.
Junior Hunter Meador is starting on the other side and sophomore Josh Moore is also looking to see some time. Smith also has experience at linebacker if needed.
Trevor Hill will be the safety, and he’s solid. Stanley and Dantzler will be the cornerbacks and Basham will also see some time against teams with a lot of speed that throw the ball often. Baker is another backup in the secondary.
Nathan Patrick, a sophomore, will be the placekicker and the punter. Johnson will join Basham in kickoff returns and Stanley will be an option for punt return.
Highfill has added Keith Jennings to the coaching staff. A Byrd graduate, he was an All-ODAC tight end at Bridgewater.
Returning coaches include George George, Kim Colls, Mark Hale, Andrew Ropp, Brian Fuquay, Thomas Kessler, Hunter Shepherd and Tino Maciel. Victor Maciel, a part-time coach in past year, has moved out of the area.
Byrd’s schedule has a new look this year. No longer on the schedule are Salem, Magna Vista, Alleghany and Rockbridge. Replacing them will be Bassett, Martinsville, Richlands and a second game with William Fleming. In fact, Byrd will play Fleming back-to-back with just a bye week between.
The Terriers host Cave Spring in the opener, a team they beat 42-14 at Bogle Field last year. The Knights look to be improved.
“They’ll be better than last year,” said Highfill. “They have their quarterback back and some good receivers.”
Byrd will hard pressed to repeat last year’s 12-2 record, losing only to Salem twice. The Spartans are no longer on the schedule, but they’re in the same region so they could possibly play in the playoffs. This year the playoff format has changed as well, as the state is split into four regions instead of two, with eight making the playoffs in each region.
“The district means nothing,” said Highfill. “I’m still old school. I think if you win your district you should be in the playoffs, but that’s not the case. It’s all points.”
Byrd is in a tough Group 4A region that includes two state champions. Salem won in 4A last year and Blackburg, who is in 4A this season, won the 3A title last year with a championship game win over Staunton River, who Byrd also plays. That will be a big game even though the Eagles are in 3A. Other strong schools in Byrd’s region include Jefferson Forest, Amherst County, Charlottesville, E.C. Glass and Pulaski County.
“Of all the teams on our schedule Bassett is the only team we play who is in our region,” said Highfill.
It all starts Friday and it looks like another exciting season for Terrier fans.