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Fauquier Football Preseason Report: Avoiding overconfidence at all costs

Wednesday, Aug. 20 | By Jeff Malmgren
Fauquier's Tyler Sinclair turns before making a one-handed grab during practice earlier this month. --Photo by Doug Stroud
Experience does not guarantee excellence.

The Fauquier Falcons learned that last season.

With 17 returning starters, the Falcons couldn't help but feel confident during the 2013 preseason. They had all five starting offensive linemen back as well as all four starting defensive linemen. Their lineup fit the old adage of "winning in the trenches." That seemed to be a foundation for success.

Fauquier, however, lost more games than it won. The Falcons finished with a 5-6 record, including a blowout loss, 49-27, to Salem in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A North Region playoffs (it was 42-0 early in the second half).

Now, the Falcons will enter the 2014 season in a distinctly different situation. They have only 11 returning starters and little hype surrounds the program.

"Last year everyone was gassing us up," Fauquier coach Jamie Carter said. "We can't get in a situation like last year where we talked about what we were going to do down the road. … It's, 'How good can we do today, this practice.'"

Following last season, the Falcons lost seven of their nine starting linemen and 20 seniors overall.

"I don't think anybody's expecting anything out of us – not outside of the locker room," Carter said. "But you never want to go into any kind of situation with lower expectations" for yourself.

"This time of year everyone's pretty high on their team and we're not going to accept anything from the kids but their best," he said. "However good that best is, we don't know yet."

Carter, at least, likes the Falcons' attitudes thus far this season.

"The way they respond to adversity and the amount of fun they have with each other," he said. "it's just a totally different world" compared to last season.

"We tell them, 'We'll teach you the game, you just have to supply the one we thing we can't teach – heart,'" he said. "The effort's there."

At times last season, Fauquier's defense didn't live up to expectations. The Falcons' offense, however, often put that defensive unit in precarious position. Fauquier finished with only 21.2 points per game, its worst production since 2006.

Carter hopes to adjust a few joints in the Fauquier offense to make it more productive this season.

"We're not going to light up any scoreboards," he said, "but we want to control the football [offensively] and play tough defense."

In certain offensive sets, the Falcons will use a fullback and tight end, unlike in recent past seasons. Ian Carrillo will likely play fullback when Fauquier's quarterback goes under center or uses an offset backfield formation in the pistol. Chris Jeffries should fill in at tight end for various sets within the Falcons' shotgun and pistol formations.

"We can call a lot of things without changing our [base] offense," Carter said. "It just gives the defense a little more to prepare for."

"But I don't know if we're going to run it more than last year," he said. "We're not going to just straight-ahead pound the ball all the time. … We always want to remain balanced."

Last season, Todd Jordan gave Fauquier a rare 1,000-yard rusher at the running back position. With Jordan's departure via graduation, Briar Thomas will likely step into the starting running back role.

Fauquier also lost the majority of its receiving corps, so Spicer Sabruno could emerge as the No. 1 receiving target. He will catch passes mostly out of the slot and backfield.

"A guy we'll move all around," Carter said. "He's just a kid that needs to touch the ball for us – a threat with the ball in his hands. We'll try to maximize it."

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Falcons at a glance

Classification: Class 4A, North Region, Conference 22

Last year: 5-6 record. Lost to Salem, 49-27, in region playoff quarterfinals.

Coach: Jamie Carter (12-10, third season).

First game: Aug. 29 at Loudoun County, 7 p.m.

Returning starters: 4 offense; 7 defense.

Preseason surprises: Despite only one returning starter on the offensive line and one on the defensive line, Carter has been impressed with those units led by Zach Evans, Josh Andre and Will Andre. "We haven't missed a beat. We have kids that have stepped up and wanted to fill those roles. They were hungry," Carter said. "The thing about defensive line and offensive line is it's one percent technique and 99 percent want-to. We have got a bunch of want-to kids."

Greatest strength: "The defense as a whole has been a bright spot," Carter said. "They've embraced some new concepts" under new defensive coordinator Will Thompson. Also new is linemen coach Kevin Friend. "It starts with the leadership from our guys up front," Carter said. "We're just getting great production. They've been doing a great job."

Quarterback play: Returning starter Louis Heisler and backup Merritt Railey are in a preseason battle. "He had a great offseason," Carter said of Heisler. "He came into camp in better shape than almost any kid I've seen ever. He's a kid that wants to separate himself. … But Merritt Railey is doing a lot of good things. He's making our decision right there pretty hard. … Louis had to learn quarterback. [Railey] is more of a true quarterback, kind of like a Colin Diehl from a few years ago."

Area of concern: "We've just got to get better," Carter said. "Right now it's not going to be enough. Our mindset is … getting better every single day."

Coach's comment: "We thought we'd be pretty tough and have good kids to build around – a bunch of hard-working kids," Carter said. "But once we got out and start running around a little bit … we saw we've got a lot of guys in a lot of places doing some good things. The first week of camp, it was a good surprise. They exceeded all those expectations."

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