Blue Devils Trending Upward Heading Into 2014 Campaign
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Aug 13, 2014, 09:33
Hopewell offensive line coach Brian Moore works with an offensive line which lost three starters from last season.
HOPEWELL — Almost 11 years ago, the Blue Devils football earned a State Championship victory with a 27-point victory over Massaponax. The very next year, Hopewell fell just short of defending their title and looked to be on a precipitous of starting a dynasty.
The team had won 32 games combined over the previous three seasons while capturing a State Championship and winning five playoff games. However, the good times were not to be as Hopewell managed just 17 wins over the next seven season leading up to 2012 campaign.
It was during that season Hopewell began to find a little more magic, defeating Dinwiddie by a 17-point margin in the opening round of the playoffs. The coming of age moment for the Blue Devils continued into last season as the squad overcame a 1-4 start to reach the playoffs and once again pick up a playoff win. The 14 wins compiled over the last two seasons nearly equals the previous seven-year total and has once again brought about expectations to the program.
No longer are the Blue Devils going to surprise teams with a physical and gritty style of play. No longer are they heading into the season as underdogs — the team is predicted to finish first in Conference 26 — and they know it. It's obvious from the way the team conducts their drills on only their second day of training camp.
The players are confident and expect to do well this season as does a coaching staff which will not accept anything less than perfection. Offensive line coach Brian Moore knows how to get the best out of his players and scolded a lineman for a mistake only to see him quickly correct himself on the next play. It's that type of paying attention to detail which leads to the building of a successful program and head coach Ricky Irby believes they are on the right track.
"We preach to our guys about having confidence and expecting to win every game," Irby said after an early morning practice. "The last two years we have won playoff games and now we want to take that next step as a program. That's where we want to be. We want to build a program here and we're going in the right direction. We don't want to just have good teams, we want a winning program."
Once again, there is reason to believe the Blue Devils are in the midst of developing a winning program. Two playoff wins over the past two seasons have created an aura around the team. Around the old Central Region, Hopewell is known as a tough team to play for any team.
Thomas Dale head coach Kevin Tucker called the Blue Devils ' a well-coached team with a group of kids who are as hard-nosed as anyone you can face,' last season and it was proven true over the course of the year. The team found themselves in numerous first half deficits, but stunned many opponents with their ability to rebound in the third quarter.
There was a 21-point comeback win against Petersburg and a regular season ending comeback effort against the Prince George Royals by scoring 24 points in a 12-minute span. Comebacks of this magnitude do not occur for losing programs, but instead teams which have confidence within themselves, a coaching staff good enough to recognize what adjustments need to be made and an ability to execute them.
"Ideally, we want to start a little better," Irby explained. "But that's a big credit to our coaching staff. A lot of times we will go into games and the team will do things we haven't seen before and for them to make adjustments and our kids is impressive. They understand what we are trying to do and what we are trying to accomplish."
And it's quite possible they will accomplish their goals this season because of the litany of talented players Irby has at his disposal.
While the Blue Devils will be without Virginia Tech bound Tabyus Taylor's 2,073 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns, they have players in place to pick up the slack. In fact, Hopewell may be the deepest they have ever been when it comes to skill position players.
Offensive coordinator Brock Parker works with the Blue Devils' quarterbacks during preseason workouts.
At the wideout position, Hopewell returns Matt Trevillian who impressed with flashes of greatness last season, Darrell Taylor who is one of the hottest football prospects in the state and Cameron Jones, a standout linebacker from last year's squad. All three stand at 6-foot-2 or above, providing both a big target and lots of speed and physicality to the offense.
Then, there is the return of cornerback Ronnie Monroe to the secondary who helped steady a defense along with safety Victor Figueroa who both grew all season long. It was their growth which coincided with the defense's improvement, leading to a more dominant unit as the year progressed. In fact, it was Irby's decision to play the youngsters last year which could pay big dividends for the 2014 campaign.
"Last year, we went into that Grafton game with so many kids who had never played a high school football game," Irby said. "We made the decision to play more kids — even if they are younger kids — to get them ready for next year, so it wouldn't be a shell-shock experience for them."
Instead of being bewildered by the pace of play, Hopewell's players are experienced, talented and ready to continue the building toward a winning program.