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Kettle Run Football Preseason Report: Athletes abound in Nokesville

Wednesday, Aug. 20 | By Jeff Malmgren
Backups Devon Ausbery and Reese Scott execute a handoff during Kettle Run's preseason two-a-days. --Photo by Doug Stroud
A duo of 1,000-yard rushers nearly led the Kettle Run Cougars to a state championship game in 2012.

If the Cougars contend for a title again this season, it will be on the shoulders of a running back trio.

"We have three kids that could all run for 1,000 yards," Kettle Run coach Jeff Lloyd said, "if they get enough carries."

Lloyd plans to split carries evenly between Austin Lewis, a change-of-pace back last season who averaged 8.4 yards per carry, and a pair of newcomers in Keion Lewis and Quay Payton.

They will try to duplicate the success of De Jackson and Josh Tapscott in 2012. Tapscott ran for 1,270 yards and 16 touchdowns on 178 carries and Jackson amassed 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns on 175 carries en route to advancing to the Group AA Division 3 state semifinals, in which the Cougars lost in triple overtime.

That marked the second consecutive season in which Kettle Run made the state semifinals. By comparison, the Cougars had a down year last season. They advanced only to the Class 3A East Region semifinals and finished 7-5 after going 11-3 in 2012 and 13-1 in 2011.

"We didn't make it back to the state semifinals, but that's hard to do every year," Lloyd said. "We played a tougher schedule, and that's a result of the previous two years' [success].

"We're looking to be better than that this year," he said. "We're just really athletic, and that's a good thing."

Austin and Keion Lewis are two of the Cougars' most versatile athletes. They will helped anchor Kettle Run's linebacker corps in addition to rotating in and out of the Cougars' offensive backfield.

Lloyd said the Cougars will likely use more two-back sets out of the shotgun formation this season, in addition to their traditional one-back sets and I-formation packages. The Lewis boys will also often shift into the slot as receivers when Payton comes on as a running back.

"We have three kids there that are all really quality running backs," Lloyd said. "The good thing about Austin is he can get bumped down to the slot and be very effective."

That will help compensate for the graduation losses that hit Kettle Run's receiving corps pretty hard. The Cougars have only one returning wide receiver.

It is a significant piece that returned, though. Senior receiver David Eldridge is back after catching 31 passes for 654 yards and nine touchdowns last season, and after making a verbal commitment to play for the University of Virginia.

"I'm very pleased with Eldridge with his growth and leadership," Lloyd said. "He looks like a D-I receiver.

"You'll have to game plan for him because, if not, he'll beat you," Lloyd said. "And with the amount of attention he'll probably attract, he should create opportunities for others."

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Cougars at a glance

Classification: Class 3A, East Region, Conference 27

Last year: 7-5 record. Lost to James Monroe, 6-3, in region playoff semifinals.

Coach: Jeff Lloyd, sixth season (38-32 at Kettle Run; 82-33 at Manassas Park, including 2004 Group A state title).

First scrimmage: Aug. 15 at Manassas Park with Spotsylvania, 6 p.m. Lloyd returns for the first time to the Manassas Park field, where the snack bar is named in memory of his mother. "I've never coached from the opposing sideline," he said. "That'll be a little strange at first … but once it starts it's just football."

Returning starters: 5 offense; 3 defense.

Preseason surprises: The defense. "They have a chance to be pretty good even though there's a lot of new kids there. It's starting to come together a little bit," Lloyd said. "I think we can still play the same [3-5-3] scheme. You do have to adjust to your kids, but right now the kids fGt the scheme."

Greatest strength: Running back.

Quarterback play: Returning starter Denzel Champion leads the preseason depth chart. "He looks very good," Lloyd said. "He's more confident in what he's doing because he knows where people are. And he's more decisive in his decisions."

Area of concern: An offensive line with only two returning starters in Jacob Schwind and Marshall Loving. "We still have some work to do ... but it's starting to come together," Lloyd said. "We have some linemen that look pretty good that didn't start last season. … I'm very eager to see us in a game situation against other people."

Coach's comment: "We look pretty good," Lloyd said. "We're really athletic at the skill positions."

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