After suffering through their fourth straight season without a winning record, Patrick Henry football was in need of change. In April, the school turned to former JV head coach and current faculty member Jonathan Clark to turn things around.
Task number one wasn’t deciding an offense to run or choosing between a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. It was all about finding student-athletes who would put, as Clark likes to say, both feet in the circle.
“We have the opportunity to work year-round now…these kids bought in back in April,” Clark said. “They’re craving information from us, wanting to know more, to get deeper into the playbook.”
One place where Patriot fans will see a familiar face is senior Tyler Phelps returning at quarterback. Phelps, who has a history of concussions, will be backed up again by junior Chesdin Harrington, who has spent much of the offseason readying to work at wide receiver. His height and playmaking ability could go a long way to replacing the graduated Travis Phillips, who stretched the field in one of the Patriots’ bright spots in 2012. Look for Parrish Gordon to line up at receiver, too.
Bender Vaught will see time in the backfield, as well as Daquan of the Morris twins. Utilizing Clark’s philosophy of using the best athletes available, expect to see both of them on both sides of the ball.
Drilling holes in opposing defenses along the offensive line will be Eli Hanback, Cole Potridge, Chris Branson, Zach Allen and Si Strong.
Hanback turns around and plays along the defensive line, too. He’s joined by senior Derek Baker, a transfer from Baltimore who Clark is excited about, plus Jake Morgan and Austin Colgin. The back seven will feature Vaught, plus Isaiah Morris, who was impressive in the Patriots’ scrimmages against Caroline and Colonial Heights three weeks ago, and Cade Harris.
There is not a ton of game experience on defense, but their athleticism, and aforementioned hunger, may be able to make up for that. Connor McKee brings a strong leg, and field goal options, to the kicking game, which can always add a win or two to your season.
A quick look along the home sideline Friday night when the Patriots take the field for their home opener against Hanover will find some familiar faces on Clark’s staff. Perhaps the most eye-opening move was the return of Ray Long to Patrick Henry, who spent the last three years as an assistant at Deep Run after leaving the Patriots’ head coaching position as the Central Region’s all-time winningest coach with 228 wins. Long will coach special teams, kickers, and provide sage advice to a first-year varsity head coach, which Clark welcomes.
You’ll also see 2009 graduate Adrian Cavanaugh, fresh off a strong career at James Madison, one of several former players who are on staff and wanting to give back to the program that helped them.
Times are looking up on Route 54, and the Patriots will fight to clinch their first winning season since 2008. But with their schedule filled with county rivals Hanover, Atlee and Lee-Davis in September, plus dates with powerhouse Hermitage, a rising Douglas Freeman, and a John Marshall squad that has a five-game winning streak on the Patriots, it will be a very tough task.
Maybe the better news is, even with a record of 4-6, the Patriots could make the Class 5A North Region playoffs, where 16 of 24 teams qualify. Anything better than another two- or three-win season may sit better with Patriot faithful, but for now, Clark is very happy with the progress found off the scoreboard.
“Things are moving in the right direction. Everybody’s doing their part,” Clark noted. “We’re making progress.”
The Hanover at Patrick Henry game will be heard Friday at 6:30 p.m. on WHAN, 102.9 FM and 1430 AM, and online.