A new football season begins Friday and things are back to normal, at least for now. William Byrd will host Liberty of Bedford at Patterson Stadium and fans will be in the stands, the band will be playing and the cheerleaders will be cheering.
“It felt so good to go out there and see people cheering again,” said Byrd coach Brad Lutz after the Terriers hosted Rockbridge County in an exhibition “Benefit Game” last Friday. The Terriers took a 21-7 win in their last tune-up before the regular season.
“I was disappointed we didn’t have a whole season in the spring,” said Lutz. “We had a really talented team and a lot of older players. I thought the kids handled it well, but it wasn’t the same. Last Friday it felt really, really good to hear the cheers again.”
Byrd finished 4-3 in the spring season, which began the last week of February and ended in mid-April. It was anything but a normal season, as athletic directors scrambled to find opponents. Byrd AD Jason Taylor had a six game schedule laid out before the Roanoke County School Board determined the county schools could only play in-county opponents. Then, after Taylor made some changes, the county did a 180 and said it was okay to play out of county schools. Byrd picked up Patrick County in the middle of the season and played the Cougars on a Thursday night.
In addition, the Virginia High School League pared down the playoffs to half of the usual number of teams competing. Byrd would have made the playoffs in a normal year, but not last year. Instead the Terriers played an “And One” game by picking up Wilson Memorial for a seventh game. That turned out to be a blessing, as Byrd took a 39-12 win against a solid Green Hornet team and Lutz hopes to use that as a spring board to this year’s season.
“We beat a good Wilson Memorial team to end the season on a high note,” he said. “Normally, if you’re in the playoffs, everyone ends with a loss except the state championship team. It was nice to have a good team and go out with a win. I’m hoping that carries over into this season.”
The returning Terriers have had just four months of off-season instead of the normal nine months, and that’s a double-edged sword. There are some drawbacks, but also some benefits.
“We have a young team and we could have benefited from a few more months in the weight room,” said Lutz. “The kids have bought into that, and with the success we’ve had it’s been an easy sell. You hate to miss that time in the weight room.
“On the other hand, we’re still dialed in coming off a good season. With a quick turnover we have that momentum from the spring.”
The Terriers have looked good in the preseason despite having a very young team. The roster is comprised of just seven seniors with 11 juniors and 15 sophomores. Six freshmen made the varsity and several will play key roles.
Two veterans who will lead the youngsters are brothers Hunter and Dustin Richards. Hunter is a senior and Dustin is a junior and both are big, strong kids who were varsity players since they were freshmen.
“They’re great kids with a blue collar mentality,” said Lutz. “They come from a great family and have a work ethic that’s unmatched, whether on the field or with a fund raiser or whatever. And they really care about football.”
The Richards boys will anchor the offensive line for the Terriers. Hunter will be the right tackle and he’s a road grader. Dustin will be the left guard.
The left tackle will be junior Caleb Thompson while senior Andy Lucas is the right guard. Alex Reamey, a junior, is the center. Sophomore Ian Vest will back up the guards and B.J. Cheatwood, a freshman, will back up the tackles.
Kendal Howard will start at tight end and Byrd will rotate a large group of wide receivers. Senior Ethan Hairston is out for high school football for the first time but he’s been most impressive in the preseason. Others who will rotate in include juniors Jacob Dickerson, Dillon Anderson and Davian Hopkins and sophomores Dominic Dulak, Cooper Minnix and Lane Shoemaker.
“We’ll rotate a ton of kids,” said Lutz. “We had seven players catch at least one pass in our scrimmage.”
Sophomore Israel Hairston is the quarterback. He’s the younger brother of Ethan and they’ll make a lethal combination for opposing secondaries to deal with.
“Israel is a three-sport athlete and a high character young man,” said Lutz. “He loves sports and he embraces a high work ethic.”
Hairston was the backup quarterback as a freshman in the spring, and he started two games at the end of the season after starter Dylan Hatfield hurt his ankle. The Terriers didn’t miss a beat with Israel behind center as he completed 30 of 47 passes for an excellent completion percentage of 63.8 percent. Hairston passed for 394 yards and four touchdowns and Byrd won both games.
“Starting those games in the spring should help him tremendously this season,” said Lutz. “And we did not change our play book one bit with Israel at quarterback. We’re lucky to have him.”
Hairston has the speed to run the ball as well.
“We do a lot of sprint out stuff and run-pass option,” said Lutz. “He can run the ball.”
Shoemaker is the backup and the coaches have confidence in Lane if he’s in the game.
“We’re blessed to have two good quarterbacks,” said Lutz.
The Terriers graduated their two leading rushers from the spring. El-amin Shareef led the team with 725 yards in just seven games and quarterback Hatfield was second on the team with 167 yards rushing in five games.
The top returning rusher is senior Peyton Fuchs, who had one carry for eight yards after being moved from the offensive line. He’ll be in a trio with senior AJ Gravely and John Kiker, a sophomore who carried the ball for the jayvee team last year.
“We’ll be a little different this year,” said Lutz. “Our backs are big, strong kids who are also great blockers.”
Lutz stresses that he favors a balanced attack, so defenses can’t key on any one player.
“We’re not going to be a one man show,” he said.
Sophomore Bricen Lancaster will be the placekicker for the Terriers and Dustin Richards won a competition to be the punter.
On defense, freshman Doniven Davis will start at noseguard with Thompson and Hunter Richards at the tackle spots. Hunter had 40 tackles last year.
Dustin Richards led the team with 64 tackles last year and he returns at inside linebacker along with senior Cole Spencer and a promising freshman, Nick Bustamante. Kiker and Howard are the outside backers.
Shoemaker is the safety with Ethan Hairston and another talented freshman, Ethan Haston, on the corners. Minnix and Brayden Andrews will also see time in the secondary.
“We have some good depth,” said Lutz. “I’m super excited about our freshman and sophomore classes.”
Assistant coaches in the program include Adam Lutz, Charlie Lutz, Kim Colls, Keith Jennings, Dustin Phelps, Will Satterfield, Josh Camden, Andrew Mitchell and a newcomer, Andrew Close, who played at Salem High and Washington & Lee. Phelps is the jayvee coach and Mitchell coaches the middle school team.
The Terriers have added Liberty and Christiansburg to the schedule and dropped Pulaski County and Patrick Henry from their last full 10 game slate from 2019. Liberty is coming off a 1-5 spring season and a 1-9 season in 2019, but they play in a tough district and expect to be improved this year. They won their last spring game over Rustburg.
“Coach (Chris) Watts does as good a job as anyone in the region,” said Lutz. “They have some big kids and a strong football tradition.”
Brad noted that Liberty was his very first opponent when he took over as head coach at Broadway in 2009. Liberty won that game, 28-20, to begin a year in which the Minutemen finished 10-2.
Lutz is hoping for a better result this Friday, but just being back in a stadium full of fans is a win for everyone.