WINCHESTER — Handley football coach Dan Jones didn't lose many players from last season's 5-5 squad, but he did graduate a couple of important ones.
Wide receiver Kevin Curry (60 catches, 1,031 yards) terrorized opposing defenses and provided 13 touchdown catches last season, many in crunch time. Also a standout defensive back, Curry is now at James Madison.
And the guy that got Curry the ball, quarterback Jacob Parker, is also gone after four years as a starter. Parker threw 15 TD passes last season.
Jones said replacing those two players won't be easy, but he believes in strength in numbers.
“We're hoping that multiple people can replace Kevin at receiver and on defense,” Jones said. “We're not asking one kid to all of a sudden be something they're not. We just need all of our kids and receivers to be good at their positions and allow us to spread the ball around a little bit more.”
And at quarterback so far, the Judges are spreading around the repetitions, too. Senior Nick Hott, who saw some time when Parker was out with an injury two seasons ago, and juniors Chris Milotte and Caleb Metzger are battling to lead the Judges offense.
“At quarterback when you have Jacob for four years, you know what you have,” Jones said. “There's things we had to work on with him every year, but you knew what you had. This year with Nick Hott, Chris Milotte and Caleb Metzger, we're searching to see what we have.”
Players are confident that the Judges will find what they need.
“I think that our quarterback situation will be good,” said running back Malachi Imoh, who rushed for 885 yards and eight touchdowns last season. “This was something we were kind of worrying about earlier because we didn't know who would be able to play. The right players have stepped up and I think that we will have a good situation at quarterback and they will be able to lead our team really well.”
While the offensive situation may be at flux in a couple of positions, Jones is excited to see what the Judges can do on defense. Handley has nine returning starters, including three standout linebackers who racked up impressive numbers last season.
Jones said defensive coordinator Jim Gaynor already has noticed a different xxxx from last fall.
“Coach Gaynor has done a great job with the defense,” Jones said. “He's mentioned that we are so far ahead. Defensively, we are putting things in that we wouldn't have put in until Week 3 last year. The kids are all back and they know it. Those other guys who are trying to fill in those two spots we lost, they're doing a great job at keeping up in a sense.
“That's a good part — now we can do the small things. Whereas before we were worried about getting lined up, now we can critique every little thing and hope it will make us even better.”
While the Judges lost their quarterback on offense, senior Quinton Newman will be calling the signals on defense. Newman led the Judges and was eighth in the area with 82 tackles last season.
“He knows what we need and what we expect,” Jones said. “He leads by example and he was actually one of the leaders for a long time that has been vocal. We have a lot of good leaders that lead by example, but he does both.”
Sophomore Stephen Daley, a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, also returns. Among his 72 tackles last season, Daley recorded an area-leading 15 sacks. His sack total doubled that of the second-best player in the area.
Jones said a year of experience has made a huge difference for Daley.
“You can just see his confidence level has grown,” Jones said. “He's still a young kid and has a lot of things to do to get better, but he's now leap-frogged from where he was last year. Now we can work on a lot of other things instead of just saying, 'Hey, just worry about lining up and being an athlete.'”
Junior Leland Walkling did not start last season, but made a big impact down the stretch. Walkling finished with 63 tackles.
“We had a conversation year. It might have been Week 2,” Jones recalled. “He said, 'Coach I want to know what I need to do to get onto the field.' I said, 'Trust the process. Leland, keep doing what you are doing and it will work out.' The next week he got in the second half and showed us that we needed to find him some reps and from there he just had a great year.”
RaeQuan Wilson (64 tackles) anchors the defensive line.
Newman is looking forward to leading the defense.
“I'm very excited,” he said. “We have a lot of potential to do great things this season. … It's nothing but hard work and fun 24-7. We try to push ourselves every day to our best potential. Our main goal right now is to get to the playoffs.”
Jones said that he has 41 players out for the varsity and expects another five or six from the JV squad to travel with the team. Jones has 48 on the JV roster.
He said the numbers are good, close to what he would like each season for the senior, junior, sophomore and freshman classes.
“Of course, I'd like to have 150 kids, but if I could get 20, 20, 20, 20 and have 80 kids in the program I think we can stay successful and keep building,” he said. “I'm very pleased. Our summer program, our weightlifting, we had great numbers. We probably had 40 or 45 every day on an average. The kids worked hard and it's showing.”
Through the first week of workouts, Jones is liking what he is seeing. Handley will host scrimmages against Loudoun County (Aug. 16) and Hampshire County (W.Va.) on Aug. 22 before opening the regular season Aug. 30 at Warren County.
“It's been going great,” Jones said. “The kids have been hustling and competing. That's all you can ask for. It's a long process in football. You've got to start slow, kind of take baby steps and hope they marinate and absorb everything. They're doing a great job and competing. The other stuff will catch up to it.”
The optimism is infectious.
“I believe in all of the players that we have can do what we did last year and better,” Newman said. “Once they get the time, the rest of the seniors and juniors, they can be good.”