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Speed, Health A Key For Falcons

FARMVILLE – If it seems like every year, the Fuqua School football team's biggest question entering the season is a lack of numbers, it's because it's true.

This year is no exception. Twenty-five players will suit up for the Falcons on Friday night when they host Virginia Commonwealth Conference rival Brunswick Academy.

“It's really no different for most of the teams we play,” said FS head coach Skeeter Fore. “An injury for us is like two, since we have a number of players playing on both offense and defense.”

Barring any bad luck for the Falcons, they should pose their overall team speed should give their opponents problems.

Starting quarterback Charles Williams returns for his second season at Fuqua, along with classmate Larry (Brian) Haskins.

The issue will be how the lines hold up. Among the six players (five to graduation) Fuqua lost from last year was Cory Wingo who proved to be a stabilizing force along both the offensive and defensive lines.

“We've got a good bunch of speed for the bunch of folks we play,” said Fore, “but we've got to give them a place to run. Line play is key.

“We're not too different along the lines than last year, but Cory did give us an advantage, but we do have experienced people back. They've got to remain aggressive.”

The Falcons will also have to replace junior Kyri Washington, who transferred to Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg.

“Kyri was also fast, and he caught the ball very well,” said Fore. “We'll miss him on defense, but we'll have to fill in the best we can. It's an opportunity for someone else to step up.”

Expect senior Michael Marquez, sophomore Jai Jamerson and Carter Cunningham to receive touches either in the backfield or as receivers. Cunningham could also receive snaps under center, should Williams need to be replaced for a play or two.

“Charles is just as good as a running back as he is as a quarterback, so we have some options, but barring an injury, he'll receive the majority of snaps.

“Haskins improved a lot during the year last season. That turned out to be a big plus for us. He has good vision and makes good decisions, and it only takes him a step or two to reach top speed. Really, we have three or four guys who can break a big play if they get a step.”

Three other seniors join Marquez. Cody Bailey, Cody Tharpe and Steven Matney, along with 10 juniors, four sophomores and five freshmen and an eighth grader.

“We don't have a lot of seniors, but we have a lot of players with varsity experience,” said Fore.

Fuqua enters the season off an 8-3 overall record in 2009. The Falcons lost to Isle of Wight Academy in the first round of the VISFA Division III Playoffs.

The Falcons barely sneaked into the playoffs, despite having a .800 record at the end of the regular-season, which left a number of playoff-worthy teams out.

In response, the VISFA created a four-tier playoff for its membership based on enrollment. Fuqua will play in Division IV, as will most of the VCC, with the notable exception of Isle of Wight Academy, which will likely remain in Division III.

“A lot of teams are on the line between Division III and Division IV, and it will be interesting who will come in just over or will sneak in just under it when the school year begins for everyone.”

He still expects the playoff field to be crowded, and a number of early games may end up deciding who gets in and who doesn't.

In addition to its VCC schedule, Fuqua will face Hampton Roads Academy and Hampton Christian, in addition to traditional non-conference rival Roanoke Catholic, football newcomer Carlisle and Tidewater, which is playing as an independent in football.

Fuqua picked up Hampton Christian last year at the very last minute due to a scheduling conflict. The narrow victory probably put them in the playoff field.

“I imagine whomever lost that Hampton Christian game would've been out, and we've got to go back down there this year. One thing that doesn't play in our favor is that every one of our road games are over 100 miles away.”

In the end, it all comes down to staying healthy. Conditioning is crucial, especially in the early part of the season when cramping is an issue.

“We work on that a lot, and even with as hot as it's been, we've handled the heat very well so far. We manage the day to where they can get some good breaks, but we also work on remaining fresh for an entire four quarters.

“Depth is always an issue, but we try to manage it as best we can. It makes a huge difference down the stretch if you can get some of those seven or eight players who play both ways a play off here and there.”

Brunswick Academy @ Fuqua

Friday, 7 p.m., Gilmer Field

Radio: WVHL 92.9 FM

Fuqua used a couple of big plays early on and held on for a 22-12 victory over the Brunswick Vikings in Lawrenceville to start the 2009 campaign.

After a couple of down years, it was easy to see that the Vikings were on the way back to the top of the VCC standings. That rise should continue this year.

“They have a lot of guys back with experience,” said Fore. “They only lost three to graduation, and their returning players have a lot of varsity experience.”

In a one-game-at-a-time mindset, it's hard to grasp that a game played before Labor Day has playoff implications, but with it being a VCC contest, and with only four teams reaching the postseason, it does carry some extra weight.

“It's a huge game, and the winner will have a leg up. There is still a lot of season left for things to go either way, but it's of utmost importance, for both the conference and the state playoffs.”

Brunswick tried to control the clock in last year's game in Lawrenceville, and if not for a couple of drive-killing penalties, the result could've been different.

Fuqua, as noted above returns a lot of experienced players at its skill-positions. Again expect to see a big-play offense matched up against a team that will look to control the clock.

How much of an advantage will home field have? Generally speaking it carries a lot of weight when these two teams are competitive. The Falcons hope that rings true Friday night.