CHS Eyes A Return To Winning Form

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, August 26, 2010

CUMBERLAND – The Cumberland High School football team got bogged down in what was perhaps the toughest schedule in all of Group A last season en route to a 4-6 record in 2009.

But despite having the same schedule again, the Dukes are looking forward to their “do over” this season, relishing their role as an underdog.

“The kids know what they faced last year,” said CHS head coach Michael Sutton. “But they're ready to get after it. The intimidation factor is gone, and I believe that they also learned from mistakes of their own.”

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Cumberland returns a lot of players from last season, and with 36 players – accounting for all the available jerseys – the Dukes are looking to recapture the glory of their 2008 James River District championship run.

Devonte Booker returns under center, or a couple steps behind center, as the Dukes generally like to run out of the spread.

In four scrimmages in a jamboree last Saturday, Booker and the rest of the offense looked good according to Sutton, scoring nine times in eight scrimmage sets.

“I was pleased with our offensive line's play. They got after it all day. That's a concern of ours going in, and there will be some growing pains, given our relative youth along the lines, but they do have some size.

“Right now, we have to focus on holding penalties, in our scrimmages, we had some big gains brought back because of holding calls. But they grew up a lot on Saturday. I saw them pointing out things to each other as they came to the line, so I was very pleased with that.”

Cumberland returns speedy receiver Rashawn Sims, who will lead a talented group of tall receivers including Demarius Trent.

The Dukes have three running backs in Quintin Langhorne, Javon Boatwright and JacQuan Jackson who will split time.

Throw in Booker, who is a dual-threat quarterback, and the Dukes have many options if they want to go to a ground game.

Shaquille Warren will assume back-up duties at quarterback.

“He had a throwing touchdown and a running touchdown on Saturday,” said Sutton. “We feel that he has a good understanding of the playbook, and he can run the entire offense if he's called upon to do that.”

Defensively, Cumberland is switching to a 3-5 look, in an effort to take advantage of Cumberland's seemingly endless supply of speedy athletes.

“It's worked out well for us so far,” said Sutton. “We'll need to maintain our energy and fly around the ball, but on Saturday they seemed to get better as the day went along. We've got to transition that into the regular-season, but I'm happy with what I see so far.”

In addition to its relative youth along the lines, Cumberland will need to work on its kicking game. It's been a problem for the Dukes more often than not over the years.

“We're going to have to work on that,” said Sutton. “We have two or three soccer players on our roster, and we'll be working with them until we can find the best fit. There have been times where the lack of a consistent kicker has cost us, and that's something we need at least for extra points.”

How far can the Dukes go? That remains to be seen, but Cumberland should be one of the better conditioned teams in the area.

“We've worked hard on our conditioning in practice. The key for us is to maintain our intensity for four quarters. We have a good chemistry. The guys like being around each other, and they're motivated to get the hurt of last season behind them.”

William Campbell @ Cumberland Friday, 7 p.m. CHS Stadium

After falling behind quickly to William Campbell in last year's season-opener, Cumberland fought back to trail 14-12 late in the second quarter. Then, William Campbell caught a second gear and went on to win 60-12.

Several turnovers led to the lopsided loss, but an experienced core returns to the Cumberland team this season, eager to erase the 4-6 record of 2009.

There was a time when 4-6 may have been acceptable in Cumberland, but no more. The Dukes will be seen as an underdog in most games in their non-district schedule until they prove otherwise, and they see Friday as an opportunity to prove they are a contender in Region B's Division 1.

After the impressive start, William Campbell hobbled to a 3-7 season. It's safe to say that both teams are hanging a lot on Friday's contest.

William Campbell has reportedly shifted into a wing-based offense, abandoning the spread attack it used over most of its stretch of dominance.

Cumberland committed five turnovers (four interceptions and a fumble) in its loss to turn a close game into a blowout loss. Given the nature of first-week games, turnovers will again be a big factor. The team that wins that battle, will naturally have a leg up in this one. The winner will also have an early advantage in the Region B, Division 1 playoff chase.