By Sports editor Brian Hoffman
The William Byrd football team is set to open Saturday, or as set as they can be during the coronavirus pandemic. Plans are for the Terriers to head to Magna Vista for a 1 pm game.
Of course, things are always subject to change during these times. The Terriers were originally scheduled to open at home with Spotswood on Friday. Then, when the Roanoke County School Board decided the county teams could only play intra-county opponents, Spotswood came off the schedule and was replaced by Glenvar. Less than a week later the county school board back-tracked on that decision, so Glenvar was off and Spotswood was out of the picture by that time. Byrd athletic director Jason Taylor scrambled to find a replacement and came up with a good one. Magna Vista is a quality Class 3 team that should provide some stiff competition for a Byrd team that has high hopes for a good season.
This will be the second season under coach Brad Lutz and he’s putting his stamp on the program. The orange helmets that the Terriers wore during Jeff Highfill’s tenure have been replaced by white helmets with an orange metallic design, with the signature “paw print” on one sign and the interlocked “WB,” like on the middle of the football field, on the other side. The players have also had a year of experience under Lutz’ system, which is somewhat different than Highfill’s.
“Our biggest improvement is we have more experience,” said Lutz. “Last season we only had 17 returning players in the entire football program, and only five of them had playing experience. This year we have more players with at least one season of varsity playing experience.”
Byrd has some key players returning, including senior quarterback Dylan Hatfield. He had an abbreviated season after a knee injury last year but he’s all the way back and has a strong arm. He’s also a good runner.
On the offensive line Byrd returns some size and experience in Bryson Lutz, Hunter Richards, Dustin Richards and Blake Sankbeil. Nick Reedy has been moved from the line to an “H Back” position and Elamin Shareef, who grew up playing in the Vinton youth program, has returned from Roanoke Catholic and will be the starting running back. He’s a good one.
Receivers include Isaac Fix, Hunter Harris and Ethan Tinsley. Tyler Dean was Byrd’s top receiver and an all-region defensive back last year but he suffered a preseason injury and is out for the season. He’s expected to return for the baseball season, where he’s a Virginia Tech signee along with Hatfield.
On defense many of the same will go two ways. Lutz and Hunter Richards are solid on the defensive line and Dustin Richards returns at linebacker.
Obviously, this has been a strange preseason. In addition to being in February the preseason is about a week shorter with no scrimmages. Coaches will tell you the most improvement they see is between that first and second scrimmage, but this year the team will be going in cold against Magna Vista Saturday. Of course, everyone is in the same boat.
“The pandemic has changed everything outside the lines of the football field,” said coach Lutz. “Our coaches have more responsibilities to protect our players and our season. How we manage our time, the locker room, strength training, and sanitation has gotten much more intense. Playing and coaching football can be very challenging as is, and the pandemic has created more obstacles, but our players and coaches have really enjoyed getting back on the field and preparing for our first game.”
Lutz is pleased with the direction of the program. Byrd has gone from having no junior varsity two years ago to having a roster of 35 this season.
“Our jayvee roster is full of quality young men who are multi-sport athletes, hard workers in the weight room and solid students in the classroom,” he said. “Our staff is excited about our growth and the commitment from our players.”
Byrd’s home opener is now scheduled for March 5 against Franklin County with a limited amount of fans at Patterson Stadium. The Terriers currently have just five games on the schedule but AD Taylor is still looking to add a sixth with the season set to begin Saturday.
Such is life during COVID.