Each year, Goochland football – led by head coach Alex Fruth – embraces a theme that serves as the team's motivating force to get it focused on what it’s trying to do.
For the condensed 2020-21 spring season, Goochland’s theme is “Us.”
“This year is about us getting better,” Fruth said. “Every time we walk out there, we just want to improve across the board.”
This year will be about building off of what they’ve done well – about looking at their successes, as well as what they’ve done poorly – and then evolving or changing their weak points as the season rolls on.
The players are already embracing that theme.
During an offseason heavily affected and lengthened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Fruth said those players did a ton on their own.
Taking advantage of the time they had, the players, including the younger teammates, worked out outside of school to get bigger and stronger. A lot of them got together over the summer months and other times. Several of the players were able to throw the football with returning quarterback C.J. Towles.
“Our kids are motivated; they wanted to get better,” Fruth said. “A lot of these kids took that and ran with that.”
They’ll look to apply all of their hard work and preparation to the gridiron this Friday at 7 p.m., when the Bulldogs’ 14-month wait to go head-to-head with another team is set to end. They will face Amelia at Fluvanna County High School.
This will be a different group for multiple reasons. In addition to the season being delayed from the fall to the spring because of the pandemic, the Bulldogs graduated several Class of 2020 players who were instrumental to the successes Goochland’s football program accumulated across its 51-5 run from 2016 to 2019. That list included, and was not limited to, Devin McCray, Quincy Snead, Kindrick Braxton, Connor Duncan, Dakhari Burgess, Luke Agee and Hunter Willms.
“You go down that line of kids who graduated, the amount of football that they played is just remarkable,” Fruth said.
For this spring, the Bulldogs will not be without a talented and experienced core of returners who contributed to Goochland’s 12-2, regional title-winning, state semifinals-reaching team in 2019.
Towles is back at quarterback.
Dual-sport leader Kameron Holman returns on offense along with fellow rushers Conner Popielarz and Kayshawn Smith.
Six-foot-4, 275-pound Ayden Doczi, who recently received a preferred walk-on offer from VMI, is once again back on the offensive line.
Will Stratton, who blocked seven kicks last season alone, returns on defense alongside lockdown player Anthony Holland.
But while they bring back several skills players, Goochland will be very young in key spots this spring, as three new starters are projected to join the offensive line.
“We’ve got to figure out what we are up front before we’re going to really know what we are” on offense, Fruth said. “If those kids can grow and mature at a pretty quick rate, then we’ll be solid on offense. If we are waiting for them to grow and mature, or if we have to shuffle bodies in and out to kind of get the right combination, it’s going to be a little bit longer process for us to kind of get rolling, which means we’ll have to get creative.”
Players competing for snaps on the offensive line will include 6-foot-5, 270-pound sophomore Hayden Raley, juniors Carter Payne and Alex Rosenbaum and sophomores Easton Bowman and Josh Usry.
Doczi, who along with Rosenbaum earned third-place finishes in this winter’s Region 3B wrestling championships, is back at center. Junior Jahran Tucker also returns to the offensive line.
Towles, a junior, will be joined in the backfield by senior running backs Holman, Popielarz and Smith. It’s expected that those three RBs will be the ones seen early on in the Wing T formation.
Fruth added of Towles: “We’re going to give C.J. … the keys to the car...we let him make a lot of adjustments and checks because he’s a football-savvy kid.”
Players who are expected to get snaps at the receiver positions include senior returner Haiden Mccourt, junior Eyan Pace, sophomore Mason Gregory and 6-foot-4 senior returner Chris White.
The defensive side will be stacked with experience. Juniors and returning players De’Andre Robinson and Kai Burton will play on the line along with 6-foot-5 senior transfer Isaiah Walker and Enrique Alvarez. It’s also expected that Doczi will get snaps on the defensive line.
Fruth said inside linebackers and seniors Holland and Stratton are going to be the core of the defense.
“We’ll be as good as they are,” Fruth said.
Holman will play at corner, and Towles at safety. McCourt could hold a role in the secondary, and both Smith and Pace could get snaps on defense.
Newcomer Omarion Quarles will also likely play in a couple of different positions for the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball.
Goochland will look to build up its depth on the defensive side and help some of the younger players get ready to step up into key roles after some of their teammates graduate this summer.
Special teams will feature Tyler Black, who was last year’s PAT/field goal specialist. He returns at kicker and will also punt for Goochland this year.
“He should be a big weapon,” Fruth said. “We should be able to actually roll him out there for some field goals for some distance, which will be great, because he’s going to be a sophomore. We’re only going to be able to watch him get better and better.”
Goochland will join teams across Virginia in taking on a completely different seasonal transition: from cold to warm with the early-spring slate, as opposed to high school’s typical summer-winter trajectory. And that won't be the only change. There will be team members wearing masks and less people in the stands per current COVID-related restrictions.
“It’s just going to be different,” Fruth said. “It’ll be good, though, for these kids to be able to play. It’ll be good for these kids to be able to get a chance to compete.”
The Bulldogs want their seniors to close out their careers with a really good experience, which means continuing the success that they’ve had, and that, in turn, means playing in the playoffs, Fruth pointed out.
Additionally, they look forward to getting the JV players to compete in as many games as they can.
“It’s important to have a good nucleus for the following year with the JV kids and younger players who are able to play,” Fruth said.