- Last Updated on 12:22 PM 04/23/12
- BY Doug Ford
Halifax County Middle School football head coach Frank Shealy and assistants W.J. Long, Justin Saunders and Stanley Brandon knew the potential was there for an outstanding 2009 season, considering the wealth of returning talent.
That potential was realized in a big way with an 8-0 record and another Southside Middle School Conference championship.
There were a few hurdles to overcome, including the season-opener against GW, which burned the Lions for a touchdown pass on its first play from scrimmage.
Halifax won that game 16-14 and would not trail the remainder of the season.
Following a big 30-16 win at Ben Franklin Middle School, the Lions returned home to defeat Lunenburg 44-20 and Nottoway 36-0 before heading to Prince Edward Middle School and prevailing 34-6.
Halifax shut out Park View 22-0 and defeated Bluestone 34-8, both on the road, before returning home to beat Russell 36-18 for the conference championship.
An abundance of talent, athleticism and depth on both sides of the ball combined to give the Lions their first unbeaten record in three years and their fourth straight conference title, according to Shealy.
“Getting that first win was a key, and we’ve had some success at this level against GW,” explained Shealy.
“They are three middle schools playing as one so they are a good representation of GW, and they are a tough opponent, but the key to our success this year was experience.
“We came into training camp with a lot of returning eighth graders, so it was so easy to get the offense going.
“Typically the defense is way ahead of the offense, but that wasn’t the case this year, because the offense already knew the plays.”
“It was the reverse this year, because the offense already knew the plays.”
With so many returning players, the Lions’ coaching staff had the luxury of adding new plays and putting in a few more wrinkles earlier in the season
Coaches could add things and put in a few more wrinkles, such as pulling the guards this year, but with only a maximum of three years to work with individual players, a lot has to be accomplished.
“We were heavy on eighth-graders, and we also added in some key younger guys from the sixth and seventh grades,” Shealy said, adding the team’s offensive sets this season were a little more in line with those at the high school.
“We ran a little more shotgun this year and some other formations out of the shotgun, similar to what they run at the high school,” Shealy said.
The Lions also ran the “I” formation, and used split back and single back formations. Lions coaches also installed the wishbone before one game but never used it in a game situation.
“We ran the spread more and threw a little more because of that,” recalled Shealy.
“In a couple of the close games we ran the ball more for clock management, and we knew our defense was probably a little behind this year, so we depended more on our offense to control the game.
“But I have to hand it to our defense, they did a great job of holding Russell out of the end zone as well as GW.
“They stepped up at the right times, and I told defensive coach W.J. Long at the beginning of the year that we would use our offense to control the game.”
Although it helps to have athleticism, talent and depth, there are a lot of intangibles that have to work themselves out in order to accomplish an unbeaten season.
“Football is a game of inches and one play here or there can really turn a game, but our coaches made a big difference.
“Coaches Long, Saunders and Brandon do a good job of putting the right people in the right positions, and that’s something we’re proud of, being able to evaluate talent.”
“We had two or three tough games where we had to lean on our experience to get things done, and we played very well in a pile of games where the outcome was obvious early on.
“That’s a credit to our coaching staff as well as the players.”
Shealy identified team leaders in five different statistical categories.
Tyler Stephens, who played running back and quarterback on offense and linebacker on defense, finished with 477 yards rushing, nine touchdowns and five 2-point conversions, all team highs.
Devan Richardson finished with 411 yards rushing, 92 receiving yards, eight touchdowns and one 2-point conversion, and Donta Crews finished the season with 305 rushing yards, 55 receiving yards, five touchdowns and three 2-point conversions.
Jerry Lennon finished with 96 rushing yards and one touchdown, Richard Jacobs with 53 rushing yards, two touchdowns and one 2-point conversion, and Ezra Walker with 30 rushing yards and one touchdown.
James Burden had 144 receiving yards and two touchdowns, Truman Brown with 102 receiving yards and one touchdown, Kory Lennon with 55 receiving yards and one touchdown, Sebastion Brion with 12 receiving yards and a 2-point conversion and Jarius Whitlock with 25 receiving yards and a 2-point conversion.
Tymeak Brandon finished the season with one touchdown and a safety, which proved to be the margin of victory against GW.
HCMS Football Program Role Identified
Shealy re-emphasized that the middle school football program’s role is to prepare athletes for play at the high school level.
“It’s not about the 8-0 record. The coaching staff wants to win and so do the players, and I tell them if you work hard, run what you’re supposed to and execute, everything else will take care of itself,” Shealy explained.
“Our job here is to give them a little bit of that. Ninth- grade football will take that a step further and so on up the ladder, but the kids get an overload of information at the middle school.
“We hone their skills and do a lot in the years we have them to get them prepared for the high school, and we have several skill players this year who depended on their athleticism to get them through, but that’s not necessarily what you need up the road.
“You need to do that formation correctly, do that technique correctly, do that skill correctly so that when you go to high school and run against a bigger, stronger player, you can make it happen,” Shealy continued.
“We’re just trying to give them a little bit of the knowledge and technique to get them ready for high school for them to be successful.
“There is a lot of talent in last year’s team and this year’s team, and I think they’re seeing that talent now at the high school.”
Coaches Look To Next Season
“We had only about 20 sixth-and seventh-graders combined this year, and our job is to recruit more, because there are a lot potential players here at the middle school,” noted Shealy.
“It’s fortunate that we have three coaches in the school system and we’ll do a thorough evaluation and pinpoint them.
“There are some with some skills and some with the tools to be successful, but we can work with and refine even those with less skill,” he added.
“There are kids with size, speed and skill that weren’t on the football team and we look to develop that potential for next season and beyond.
“We don’t have a lot coming back, and that will be our challenge the next eight months.”