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Falcons return to the gridiron

Fuqua School’s varsity football team is set to begin a season like no other Friday at 6:30 p.m. when it hosts Halifax Academy.

Ben Manis

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most significant contributor to why this season is unusual, but the winter weather has also played a key role more recently, limiting the number of practices.

The pandemic has pushed the season from its usual time slot in the fall to this late winter/early spring time frame. It has limited the number of games that can be played and eliminated any postseason, with spring sports quickly following after football.

Because of fewer football teams and players active right now, the Falcons will be playing eight-man football for the first time, participating in the Virginia Independent Schools Football League.

Fuqua Head Coach Ben Manis said the school tried to work in some 11- man games, but the options were few.

“We did what we had to do to get a schedule together,” he said.

The Falcons are coming off a 2019 season in which they went 9-2 overall, including 5-0 in the Battlefield Conference. They drew 22 all-conference selections, including 11 on the first team, with then-senior quarterback Elijah Warner being named the conference Co-Player of the Year.

“Last year we had nine seniors and every one of them started in some form or fashion on either one or both sides of the ball, so we’ve got a bunch of new moving pieces this year, so it’s just going to be kind of different, and what we’re having to do is kind of different and new and the league we’re in for this year,” Manis said. “We’re just happy to be playing football.”

The current Fuqua varsity squad consists of 24 players.

Key returning players include senior defensive end/linebacker Sean Bradley Jr., who will also play fullback and dive back on offense and is fielding multiple college offers; senior running back and slot receiver Jackson Allen, who will also play linebacker on defense; and senior offensive lineman/linebacker Ryan Ledger.

“I expect them to kind of step it up, and Luke Gee has really, really done a lot of development,” Manis said of the senior who will likely play as a tight end, slot receiver and wing back. “He’s really come a long way.”

Fuqua will also feature junior Nate Reed, a transfer who had been the starting quarterback for the Prince Edward County High School varsity team the last two seasons.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what he can do,” Manis said. “He’s probably going to end up taking the snaps at quarterback. He can play it all. He runs the ball well, he throws the ball well. He’s in a new system.”

Other players who could see time behind center for Fuqua include sophomore Aaron Orange and Gee.

Manis also highlighted senior Cody Fulford as someone who could be a standout on the team. He is a multi-sport athlete, also playing baseball and basketball.

The Falcons have not had much time to prepare for their season opener Friday.

“So far, practice has been going well, but it’s all different when you strap the pads on, so we’ll go in with about eight days of practice so far, really,” he said.

He confirmed he has never entered a season with that few practices, typically having 28 completed by the beginning of the regular season.

“I’ve never gone to a scrimmage with (only eight) practices,” he said. “We start our summer ball, and we do a team camp. Typically by the first week of camp, we have 90% of our playbook installed, and we’re pretty proficient at it because we’ve done it all summer, 7-on-7, team camp, one or two scrimmages before you play your first game.

“So, this is like not studying for a test and trying to cram it all in 30 minutes before you take it.”

Fuqua was actually supposed to start its season Saturday afternoon, Feb. 20, visiting Kenston Forest School, but winter weather intervened.

If the Falcons can reschedule that game, they will have five games on the schedule.