In his third season as head coach of the Falcons football team, Joseph Prince is looking to conquer the demons of seasons past. The last times the Falcons reigned victorious versus county rivals Liberty and Kettle Run were in 2002 and 2012, respectively. With that being said, no current players on the team have experienced beating the Eagles or Cougars.
In last year’s final game, the Falcons’ season ended in heartbreak in the Bird Bowl versus Liberty. In what appeared to be a secure victory, the Falcons held the lead by six points until late in the fourth quarter, when the Falcons fumbled the ball on the 10-yard line, allowing the Eagles to score with three seconds left. After converting the extra point, Liberty won the Bird Bowl 28-27.
That game and the 2016 season, in which the Falcons finished 4-6 and fifth in the Evergreen District, has stuck with the players and coaches throughout the offseason and into this year. A single word now is the team’s motto: Finish. Senior Cole Anderson, a team captain, has used that word as motivation.
“Our team goal is to definitely beat Kettle Run and Liberty—that’s always our team goal,” Anderson said. “We haven’t been able to win in the past couple of years, so that’s a big goal this season, along with having a winning record.”
The Falcons enter the 2017 season 1-2 after a 42-0 blowout loss versus the Dominion Titans on Sept. 8. The Titans defense held sophomore quarterback Jackson Eicher to 53 pass yards and junior running back Kevin Chavis to 32 rush yards.
The team-elected captains this season are seniors Franco Camarca, Joey Heisler and Anderson. Prince praised the trio’s value as leaders to the young team.
“I think they work hard, and the kids look up to them because of that,” Prince said. “Those three by far were who [the team] voted for.”
In past seasons, the Falcons have been a run-dominant offense without much game plan in moving the ball through the air; however, the coaching staff will be looking to to implement more of a passing game in the the Falcons’ offense this season, allowing for an for an increased dynamic overall.
“[We’re] trying to be able to throw the ball and move the ball through the air some more to ease up on the running game,” Prince said.
To complement that passing game is Eicher, who earned the starting quarterback spot by performing well in the preseason. Eicher completed 17 passes for 29 attempts for 240 yards in the Falcons’ 21-0 victory over Brentsville Sept. 1.
“He had a couple good scrimmages, he throws a nice ball, and he [has] a pretty good football IQ,” Prince said. “We just [have] to get him more experience under the gun, but he [has] a lot of potential to be a very solid quarterback if he develops, and that’s what we expect of him.”
The Falcons will compete in the new 13-team Northwestern District, which was established this season. It consists of 4A members FHS, Kettle Run, Liberty, James Wood, John Handley, Millbrook and Sherando. Prince said he was concerned about the challenging matchups throughout the schedule, especially the three-game road stretch in September against Dominion, Millbrook and John Handley.
“It’s tough,” Prince said. “Millbrook is talented, Sherando is very good, and John Handley’s improving.”
Additional concerns for Prince this season include the depth of the team and its lack of experience due to an underclassman majority.
“We’re young at some positions, and we’re making some mistakes that young players do,” Prince said. “Hopefully we can get them corrected; they are all correctable mistakes, but we just [have] to do a better job of coaching them up so they don’t make those kind of mistakes in a game. The game is a blur when you’re young sometimes, and we [have] to make them comfortable enough that the game slows down.”
To offset concerns over the inexperience of his younger players, Prince’s seniors will play a large role on the team this season. Along with Camarca, Anderson and Heisler, the senior core this season for the Falcons is represented by Greyson Thomas, Dakari Mullins, Amir Siders and Stephen Potucek. Juniors Chavis and Tommy Schrank add to the upperclassmen group. Chavis ran for 221 yards versus Brentsville.
“I think every year you have to look to your seniors,” Prince said. “I think your seniors have to be your best players or leaders, and I think if you look to one person, your team’s dead.”
One of the top goals for Prince this season is simple: Begin in the classroom. Along with beating the county rivals, having a winning season and making the playoffs, Prince said he wants his team to have a 3.1 average GPA. Last season, the final average GPA of the team was a 2.95.
Team chemistry is another priority that Anderson said he hasn’t seen a lot of in previous seasons.
“We’re having a lot more fun—we’re more of a family this year,” Anderson said. “We hang out a lot more outside of football, and once you have more fun you can play loose and win.”
Prince also emphasized the value of team unity.
“Football’s unlike most sports. In a lot of other sports, one athlete can make you very good; with football, it takes 11,” he said.
Prince said he is looking forward to growing as a team and placing focus on what is controllable.
“Football is always a journey. I’m looking forward to that journey and seeing how it goes,” Prince said. “Hopefully, it goes the way I want it to go. Hopefully, we get better every week. Hopefully, we learn some lessons of how to win, [and] hopefully, the kids will buy into everything. If we just control what we can control, we’ll be fine.”
~alex wright, sports director