WINCHESTER — In PK Kier and Noah Robinson — two current Division I players — the Millbrook football team has been blessed with a couple of pretty impressive running backs throughout its run of four consecutive playoff appearances.
There have been other outstanding athletes who have carried the ball in that time — namely Savon Smith, now a freshman wide receiver at Richmond — but Smith and those others have usually done so from the slot position in the Pioneers’ shotgun wing-T offense.
A big part of why the Pioneers’ offense has been so explosive in recent years is because Kier and Robinson could not only make people miss but more importantly, they could pick up those tough yards in between the tackles, move piles and make people pay if they focused too much on the slot players. Kier (Virginia) recorded 2,561 yards and 32 TDs in 2015-16 and Robinson (Delaware) picked up 1,794 yards and 21 TDs in 2017-18.
Now it’s senior Gavin Evosirch’s turn to take on the running back role previously occupied by Kier and Robinson.
Evosirch has been a dynamic athlete for Millbrook ever since he made 57 tackles as a freshman linebacker. Over the last two years, Evosirch has been a huge threat with the ball in his hands whether he’s been in the slot or at quarterback. He had 869 rushing and receiving yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore.
As a junior, he had 855 yards and 13 TDs rushing and 566 yards and 10 TDs passing (he turned QB duties over to Kaden Buza in the seventh game of the season) en route to earning second-team Class 4 Northwestern District all-purpose honors.
Evosirch said he’s looking forward to his new role, and he’s prepared for the adjustments he’s had to make compared to playing in the slot. Evosirch spoke after Tuesday’s practice, the team’s second on its home campus after opening up on Aug. 1 at the Powhatan School in Boyce.
“Just reading the line more, knowing where to go with the linebackers, knowing how many guys are in the box, and knowing what to do in the different situations are the things I need to be aware of,” Evosirch said. “I feel like it’s been going well. I like the responsibility [of going in between the tackles].”
Evosirch has done the work to be prepared for the rigors of the position. The 6-foot Evosirch was listed at 185 pounds last year, but he’s now up to 200 pounds.
More important than the weight is the added strength. His squat is up from 315 pounds to 345 pounds, and he repeated as Millbrook’s IronPioneer Challenge champion, which features 12 strength and speed exercises, including some competitions that are a combination of both. Evosirch won five of the 12 events.
Millbrook head coach Josh Haymore said Evosirch has the necessary skills to play at running back.
“I think he can carry the load and do a really good job,” Haymore said. “He’s faster than Noah. After Savon, Gavin probably has the next-best vision [of the recent Millbrook ballcarriers]. If we ask can him to tote the ball 35 times between carries and catches, I think he’d be able to do it.
“I think with what we’re doing with certain runs and the passes, I think [his versatlity] will help him, with the way he plays slot and reads sweep.”
Though Millbrook no longer has Robinson and Smith, the Pioneers — who have 40 players out for this year’s team — have plenty of returning talent back from last year’s offense that averaged 36.9 points and 376.9 yards per game while going 7-4 in 2018.
Buza is back at quarterback after completing 52 of 97 passes for 800 yards, eight TDs and seven interceptions. Haymore said he expects the Pioneers to throw the ball more than they did last year (17.6 passes per game).
“I think he understands more of what we’re trying to get out of the passing game,” Haymore said. “We did a lot more 7-on-7s this year, and he understood where we needed to get the ball.”
Jordan Jackson (second-team all-district wide receiver) caught 29 passes for 390 yards and seven TDs last year and will move inside to the slot position. Junior Diante Ball will also play in the slot. Senior T.J. Spain (17 catches, 313 yards, 5 TDs) — who won three of the 12 IronPioneer Challenge events — is back as an outside wide receiver. Freshman Detric Brown — the younger brother of former Millbrook quarterback and sophomore Richmond wide receiver Isaac Brown — is someone else who could help the offense in some capacity.
The Pioneers also feature two returning all-district offensive linemen in Tyler Duckstein (first team) and Zach Harrison (second team). Duckstein was also named to the Region 4C first team.
Millbrook’s defense also returns six starters. Jackson (three interceptions) was the only player on that unit who earned all-district honors last year, earning selection to the second team.
Haymore will now serve as Millbrook’s defensive coordinator after previously running the offense. Haymore said former defensive coordinator Jared Uhler is focusing on being a JV coach this year for family reasons. Haymore is turning over offensive coordinator duties to Ben Ratliff, who was the team’s wide receivers coach last year. Ratliff has been on Millbrook’s staff for seven years.
Evosirch said he likes the team’s makeup this year.
“I just feel like when we got to camp, we felt more together as a team right off the bat,” Evosirch said. “I just want that to stay throughout the season and not have people separating themselves.”
The Pioneers have scrimmages at home with Amherst County (Aug. 16) and at Wilson Memorial (Aug. 23). Millbrook opens its season on Aug. 30 at Jefferson (W.Va.).