CHS Hopes Balanced Chemistry Equals 2011 Success

Published 4:14 pm Thursday, September 1, 2011

CUMBERLAND – Nobody saw Cumberland High School's 2010 football season coming. The Dukes, who appeared to have all the tools to contend for the James River District championship finished a disappointing 1-9 on the season and winless in district play.

Now, they're hoping nobody sees them as a threat entering the 2011 season.

Cumberland begins regular-season play on Friday night against longtime rival Prince Edward with a new look and a new attitude.

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“I think it was a lack of chemistry more than anything,” said third-year Cumberland head coach Michael Sutton. “We had no true leader on the team and we didn't gel.”

Sutton feels that may be the biggest difference between the 2010 Cumberland Dukes and the 2011 squad.

“This year, I feel we already have that chemistry. The kids are even talking about the difference and using the word 'chemistry,' so you know that they saw it as a problem last year, too.”

Cumberland does return a large number of players from its 2010 roster. The focus over the summer was team-building.

“We went to seven-on-sevens, and the camps like everyone else,” said Sutton. “But everyone really supported the others. When we go to dinner, I now see our running backs hanging out with our linemen, and our skill players supporting them. We even had a couple of our skill players show up to a lineman camp to support our guys.”

A new attitude will only improve a team so far from a 1-9 season. In order to compete for a title in the James River District – regarded by many as being the toughest Group A district in the state this year – the Dukes also had to address some changes in their game plan.

Don't expect to see the same offense. The spread-option attack has been the staple offense for the Dukes for more than a decade. Cumberland will move more to an “I” formation for 2011.

“We're going to run the ball more and not really fool anybody,” said Sutton. “For a couple of years, teams have focused on [Devonte] Booker to [Rashawn] Sims, but this year, we'll be more run-oriented, and hopefully, it will do a couple of things for us. For starters, hopefully it can help Sims from having to face as many double teams.”

Sutton also believes that it will help save the defense.

“We would tire on defense, because we'd either score quickly or go three-and-out on offense. The best defense you can have is to be on offense, and the longer the better.”

By taking some of the focus off of Sims, Sutton believes the senior wide receiver can be even more effective – even when they do shift gears back into the spread.

“Oh, the old stuff is still there if we want to go to it from time to time.”

One other strong point for the Dukes will be team depth. Sutton estimated that with a couple of sophomore call-ups from the junior varsity, the Friday night roster should be over 40 players. The depth appears to be spread out over the team, and not just in one or two positions.

Sutton admits that the lines won't be the biggest ones out there, but he does like their athleticism, and quality of depth.

“We have back-ups on our lines this year. That's a convenience that we haven't always had. The guys are fighting each other, because they can see that there are no real guaranteed spots. Nobody is comfortable, and as a coach I like that.”

Tyler Garrett starts at center, with Jermaine Copeland and Aaron Sims at guards, while Rashawn Carter and Gabe Arrighi will likely start at tackles.

In addition to Booker at quarterback and Sims at primary receiver, Cumberland's offense will feature a number of other weapons. Sutton says that he hopes to be able to rotate three or four tailbacks into the game in order to keep them fresh. Justus Dowdy and Dajon Booker will see time in the backfield along with senior Aurthur Byrd. Kevin Langhorne will take fullback duties. BJ Roach will start at tight end, with Dajon Booker and Bryant Winbush (the backup quarterback) in the receiving corps with Sims.

Defensively, the lines will look pretty much llike the offensive line, but senior Kevin Boswell will likely see action at nose guard, with Roach also seeing time along the line. Dowdy, Martin Sustaita and Robert O'Connor will see time at linebacker, while Dajon Booker, Travis Royal and Ben Ricker will play in the defensive backfield.

“We have the luxury of not having to play everyone both ways. Some will, but when they need rest, we won't feel like we need to rush them back in.”

Though they learned last season that nothing is a given, the Dukes should be better this year. However, if one were to give out Most Improved Awards, the prize won't go to any one team, but to the entire James River District.

“It's the toughest in Group A, in my opinion. With the additions of Nottoway and Goochland, you've got Buckingham as strong as ever, and Amelia's going to continue to improve, while Central is coming back. Randolph-Henry has always given us fits.”

The district may have gotten harder, but Cumberland caught a break in the new Group A playoff structuring when it came in under the Division 1 cut-off by just a few students.

Cumberland has one of the highest enrollments in Group A's Division 1 sub-classification.

“The guys aren't talking about championships. Of course, getting to the playoffs is a goal, but they want to be the first to win a playoff game. We've been a couple of times, but haven't won in postseason. We want to go beyond what's been done before, and as long as they keep developing team chemistry, I think that's going to be very achievable for this group.”