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Last year, the Atlee Raiders’ record was 5-5, but their season was anything but average.
Morris Jackson ran wild, rushing for over 2,000 yards and 33 touchdowns in just nine games. Kenner Berry passed for 2,500 yards leading a prolific offense. But the defense gave up points in loads, preventing the Raiders from postseason play.
For 2013, the entire defense returns, while head coach Roscoe Johnson looks for new leadership at the skill positions offensively, looking to return to the playoffs after a year’s absence.
“Each time we go on the field, we always learn and take valuable things away from a game or scrimmage,” Johnson said after watching his team come back from a 34-7 halftime deficit in a scrimmage last week at Manchester. “I’ve learned the toughness of our kids.”
That toughness will be put to the test defensively, a group of athletes with much to prove and naysayers to quiet. In their last game of 2012, Atlee gave up 61 points to Lee-Davis. The lessons learned will carry over to 2013, but not the memories.
“I told [the defense] to put 2012 in the past. We are older and more experienced in game situations,” Johnson noted.
Tye Burriss heads to free safety this season, handing linebacking duties to Chad Vanlandingham, Scott McCombs, Chalin Fairly and Tanner Bazemore. Burriss is joined in the secondary by strong safety Devon Jackson, Ben Spear, Tramell Carey and Daniel Glymph.
Along the line in the 3-4 defense, Hayden Hudson anchors at nose tackle, flanked by Tanner Ramey and Florida State recruit Alec Eberle.
It is Eberle who will anchor what could be the key to Atlee’s success this season: an extremely talented offensive line. Their ability to open holes for new running backs Lamont Stubbs and Loumond Dandridge and to protect quarterback Reid McCoy cannot be understated. Eberle says the crew doesn’t feel pressure, though.
“The pressure is not much more because every year our goal is to play with high intensity, and as close to perfect as possible,” Eberle noted.
Aiding Alec in the cause up front are McCombs, guards Nick Clarke and Austin Cannon and center Michael Dellaripa.
McCoy, a senior transfer from Glen Allen, will start under center, winning a camp competition over Hanover transfer Travis Barton.
“Reid has really started to grasp the offense. We feel he gives us the best chance of winning games,” Johnson said, adding he is very excited about his running back tandem of Stubbs and Dandridge.
“Both will see a lot of time at tailback. Dandridge is the ‘lightning’ who can slash and take it to the house at any place on the field,” Johnson explained. “Stubbs is the ‘thunder.’ He will punish anyone who gets in his way.”
McCoy will throw to a receiving corps led by returning starters Ross Gardner, Glymph, and Carey. Booth Watson steps up as the fourth receiver in the Raiders’ fast-paced offense.
Atlee is in the Class 5A South Region in the new VHSL reclassification. With 16 teams making the new regional playoff format, the Raiders have a better than 50 percent chance to extend their season. Had the format been in effect last year, they would have made the postseason.
There’s no question the defense will return with much to prove and a chip on its collective shoulder. The offensive line is, perhaps, the best in all of Central Virginia. If the new skill position starters can come anywhere close to replicating the 4,500-yard performance of last year, Atlee should not only improve on the 5-5 mark, it will prepare them to play football much deeper into November.
The Raiders begin the season Sept. 6 at home against new Conference 11 foe Deep Run.