Happy New Year, Dublin Dukes football! Insert your favorite catchy football music here.
The Dukes and Coach Ward Angle have had their jamboree and now they’re as anxious for the regular season as stock car racers coming to the green flag.
“The players chomping at the bit most are the guys I had last year as seventh graders,” Angle said.
Now, whether the Dukes lap the proverbial field and take the checkered flag from their cross-county rivals for another year depends on which team shows up.
“We’re truly a work in progress,” Angle admitted. “We’ve got the clay. As a coaching staff we need to mold it.”
If the team that strolled in mid-season last year shows up fans can expect a grueling season at best.
“We don’t have that instant threat for a touchdown this year like we did a year ago,” Angle said, referring to Hunter Thomas, now a freshman.
But if the squad that began the year hotter than two-a-days in July appears, well, say a prayer for the opposition.
Obviously the Dukes are different personnel-wise. Normally that means filling shoes will be easier said than done. This year, not so much.
“We had an identity last year that centered around two or three players. To defend us last year teams had to take out two or three guys. This year we’re more balanced,” Angle said.
Balance at quarterback this year is trumped only by depth. The Dukes have three signal-callers – eighth graders Terrell Todd, Kellen Dalton, and Braedon Blevins – and one of the future in seventh grader Noah O’Dell.
If the season began tomorrow Angle would lean toward Blevins based on his quarterback leadership in practice thus far. “But Dalton is right there,” he added.
And whoever is not calling cadence will pop out to the wing and catch the ball. Todd is the speedster.
“Once he catches the ball no one will be able to catch him,” Angle said. “He and Kellen will be the deep threats.”
Over the middle Angle and the Dukes will rely on a transfer from Pulaski, Ian Whited, who already had been dubbed “Big Daddy.”
“He’s a man among boys,” Angle said of 5’11”, 175-pound Whited who will play tight end and linebacker. “He’s got great hands. He’s very coachable and he’s got a motor that’s wide open. It never stops.”
Angle will have three other transfers at his disposal this year as well, including Dakota Fortune and Dakota Miller. Fortune is a defensive back from Shawsville who Angle says is “tough as nails.” Miller, an outside linebacker, is from Floyd.
Arguably the most exciting transfer is Jobonta Gray, a 5’8”, 175-pound eighth grader full of potential from the 757 area code. That’s Suffolk, by the way.
“Everybody loves the 757 area code,” Angle said. “Jabonta is a very solid athlete. We’re cautiously optimistic about bringing him along. He’s a stud. He’s never played football before, so he’s got no bad habits.”
Other receivers who will figure into the game plan eventually include Trent Mace, Garrett Dalton, and Mason Clark.
“Clark reminds me of (former New England Patriot receiver) Wes Welker. He’s got great hands and he’s very coachable too. We don’t exactly have a (Patriots QB) Tom Brady to throw to him, but we’re working on it,” Angle said.
Despite the offensive depth, Angle insists the defense will drive the Dukes this season.
“We’re taking on a personality of being physical and dominating the player across from us. We know that if the other team never scores we’ll never lose. That said, we’re using two different offenses. Once we see where the other team’s weakness is we’ll put in the offense that will work,” Angle said.
The Dukes’ ground game also has a veteran feel to it with eight-grade running backs Daemon Williams, Lattrell Thomas, and Connor Martin. Williams is the punisher, while Thomas and Martin will have you grabbing at air if you dare blink.
“Daemon will club you and Lattrell and Martin will run around you,” Angle said. “The other team will have to pick their poison.”
Williams is one half of a brother combo that Angle calls “the core of our football team.” The other is Raymon Williams, a utility player Angle plans to use early and often.
“They kind of remind me of (former UVA and NFL greats) Tiki and Ronde Barber,” Angle said. “Both these guys have to be in the football game in order for us to be successful.”
With the depth in the offensive backfield the Dukes will need a dominant line to pave the road. Got ‘em. Enter Brody Fields at center, Brock Draper at right guard, and D.J. Gathers at right tackle. On the other side Chandler Dunnigan will play guard and Zack Musick will play tackle. They’re all eighth graders by the way.
Keeping them honest will be Cody Talbert, B.T. Dobbins, Ben Arnett, Jaxson Calihan, and Ben Kestler.
“We’ve got some new guys who are pushing these starters,” Angle said. “I could move those guys anywhere.”
That’s not to say that it’s all be roses and clover so far. Injuries have landed like locusts on a wheat field. Joe Reynolds and Jaylin Nowlin are out for at least two weeks with wrist injuries.
But arguably the two most disheartening injuries are to seventh graders Jarious Miller and Logan Kemp. Miller broke his collar bone on a fluke play during a one-on-one practice drill. But when he comes back, watch out, Angle said.
“He’s truly the real deal,” Angle said. “You’re going to see him again. He’s an athlete. He will take on the baddest man we have.”
That’s Daemon Williams, by the way, in case you’re keeping score at home.
Kemp, dubbed by Angle as “the heartbeat of our team,” threw himself into a tackling drill not long ago when he took a hit on his knee.
“I’ve never seen anybody throw themselves into a drill like he did,” Angle said.
The resulting collision stretched everything that can be stretched in a knee, pulling tendons away from the bone, Angle said.
“This is major,” he added. “I feel bad for him because he’s come to every practice and he was pushing himself at linebacker and at fullback.”
Despite the severity Angle speculated the injury was not likely career-ending.
“He’s young enough. He’ll be back,” Angle said.
In the meantime, the Dukes continue preparing for game one scheduled Thursday, September 5 against Blacksburg. Angle said that game will likely be their barometer game given Blacksburg’s personnel.
“They have one of the best running backs they’ve had in years. He was the class of the jamboree, nobody could stop him,” Angle said.
For once, Dublin fans are no doubt hoping coach will be wrong.