Dinwiddie Aims To Reload
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Aug 18, 2014, 08:33
Ethan Eubank will likely be counted on as the team's new starting quarterback
DINWIDDIE — One would have been hard-pressed to find a more dominant team across the state than the Generals. Dinwiddie's senior class entered the 2013 campaign on a mission to capture the program's first-ever State Championship. It had become a goal for the team since the school hired head coach Billy Mills prior to the 2005 season.
Mills entered the interview room following the another dismal two-win campaign and sold an idea of turing the Generals into an annual contending program. He sold a system which starts the development of players through the middle school ranks to fuel the varsity squad. In 2008, Dinwiddie almost made Mills a prophet by reaching a State Championship game for the first time in history before losing by a 24-point margin to Phoebus.
But to those around the program, it represented progress and an idea of where the team was heading in the coming years. It was a rare bright moment for a team which has compiled just a 4-35 mark prior to Mills' hiring. The trust in Mills that both the Dinwiddie administration and players had were rewarded with a magical season.
The Generals marched through an undefeated regular season, defeating opponents by an average margin of victory of 34.3 points per game. But if that were not dominating enough, Dinwiddie outdid itself en route to defeating Sherando at Liberty University for the State Title.
During the five-game playoff run, the Generals shutout three consecutive opponents, scored an average of 46.8 points per contest and won by an average margin of 41.2 points. It was the culmination of the program Mills promised he would build all those years earlier inside an interview room. However, last year's success means nothing for the 2014 campaign.
It's why the players enjoyed the victory for only so long, hit the weight room in January and went after another title with a new team motto in mind.
"We want to reload," Mills said during the first week of training camp. "That's what the captains said the motto is for this year. I said, 'alright, but you have to come up with how we're going to reload.' They came up with having to show resolve and be able to respond to adversity like last year's group did."
But there is something else the Generals have to contend with if they are to again excel on the gridiron and it's their own history. Since 2007, the Generals have compiled winning seasons every year, but have floundered after especially good campaigns.
During their State Championship appearance season in 2008, Dinwiddie compiled a 12-1 mark before falling to Phoebus. However, the team struggled to build off the previous year's success and finished with a mediocre 6-5 campaign in 2009. The Generals suffered the same fate in 2011, finishing 6-5 after another 12-win campaign the year prior.
It's one of the reasons Mills and his coaching staff have preached to their players about staying focused at the task at hand, recognizing the little things which can make all the difference and remaining hungry to experience success once again.
"We've had three, four really good seasons and they have always been backed by a 6-4 or a 6-5 season," Mills explained. "That's our challenge ... They work hard and pay attention to details. Every now and then, some complacency may sneak in, but they have been all about doing the little things right. But doing just that won't be enough to repeat."
While doing the little things right won't guarantee them another successful year, having players like All-State defensive end John Branch returning will surely help. As a junior last season, Branch played exclusively on the defensive line and made an immediate impact.
The 6-foot-2 rising senior recorded 100 total tackles last season, 62 of which were of the solo variety, and 27 of those resulted in a loss of years. But during this upcoming season, the explosive senior will not just be playing on the defensive side of the ball, but as an X receiver because of his tall frame and speed.
Head coach Billy Mills has instilled a winning culture with the Generals since his hiring and is making sure it continues.
Also key to the Generals' success this season will be the return of safety Denzel Williams after another impressive campaign. As a junior, Williams played in all 15 games for Dinwiddie while recording a team-high eight interceptions, recovering two fumbles and blocking one punt. Yet, Mills has looked past his solid returners and instead discusses the amount of competition the team has for spots.
All over the field, there are positions up for grab including the running back spot where last year's third-string running back James Lyons — he of the 18 carris and 159 rushing yards with three touchdowns last season — will be considered the front-runner. It's that type of depth which could determine the type of season Dinwiddie is able to produce this season.
"This group is learning right now about when to sub themselves out to keep the high tempo going," Mills explained. "We kind of planned it that way now to have a lot of depth. It means people are pushing for open spots and pushing those starting in front of them."
With an even deeper team and more competition for spots than last year's successful squad, Dinwiddie has eyes on once again playing deep into November.