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High school notes: Meet Benedictine defensive tackle and top-tier recruit Joel Starlings
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High school notes: Meet Benedictine defensive tackle and top-tier recruit Joel Starlings

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Meet Benedictine defensive star Starlings

Benedictine sophomore defensive tackle Joel Starlings has been drawing widespread interest from top Power Five programs as his No. 2 Cadets (3-0) prepare for their final game of the season Saturday against Fork Union.

Starlings has offers from Virginia, Texas A&M, Georgia, Oregon and Florida State, among others. When he was younger, Starlings (6-foot-5, 303 pounds) had “no clue” he’d develop into a Power Five-caliber recruit.

“I never knew that I was going to have this much exposure playing football,” Starlings said. “Beforehand, I was playing football just for fun, and I loved the sport. Then it just started to become big for me.”

Starlings started playing rec league football around age 6. He was a quarterback then, playing for his father, a former player at Armstrong High. Starlings said his dad still watches film with him and has been a big part of his development.

As Starlings grew, he first transitioned to tight end. Then he spent some time in the weight room, grew some more, and decided he belonged in the trenches. His favorite NFL player is Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and he emulates his game after Buccaneers edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

He’s a basketball player, too, mainly at the power forward or center positions. But Starlings said he can also bring the ball up the court, and his favorite NBA player is Wizards guard Russell Westbrook.

Starlings transferred to Benedictine from Trinity Episcopal between his freshman and sophomore years. He said coach Greg Lilly’s coaching staff felt like a good fit for him.

“It’s like a family,” Starlings said, calling Lilly a “second father figure to me.”

Starlings sprained his ankle in Benedictine’s 45-7 win over St. Christopher’s last Saturday, and Lilly said he’s not sure if Starlings will play in the finale. The Cadets won’t have a postseason because of the pandemic.

Regardless, Starlings has cemented himself as one of the Richmond area’s top prospects in the Class of 2023.

Hilton, Generals topple third-ranked Blue Devils

Quarterback Brenton Hilton accounted for 311 yards of total offense and three touchdowns as host Dinwiddie (3-1) beat No. 3 Hopewell (1-1) 26-14 Monday night.

Hilton completed 19 of 30 passes for 240 yards and two scores. He also rushed 16 times for 71 yards and another touchdown. Receiver Kelmari Brown had eight receptions for 150 yards and caught both of Hilton’s touchdown passes.

Hopewell was playing its first game in three weeks. Blue Devils running back Robert Briggs rushed 14 times for 108 yards and a pair of scores. Fellow back Mason Cumbie had 120 yards on 13 carries. Kesean Henderson had six tackles, three for loss, including a sack.

Rapids ground Skyhawks in interim coach’s first game

James River and football coach James Riley III, who was hired in March 2019, parted ways last week. Interim coach Kyle Freedman won his first game at the helm Monday night when the Rapids beat L.C. Bird 25-24.

St. Christopher’s wrestling undergoes coaching change

St. Christopher’s wrestling coach Ross Gitomer, who guided the Saints to two VISAA titles over 10 years with the program and seven as its head coach, will take the job at his alma mater in New Jersey, Blair Academy.

“Leaving St. Christopher’s and the wrestling program is going to be unbelievably hard,” Gitomer said. “This place has become family to me, these kids are family to me, my students and colleagues are family to me.”

VISAA did not hold a state wrestling meet this year, and the Saints did not have a regular season while LIS competition was on hold because of the pandemic. But Gitomer and St. Chris most recently won back-to-back to VISAA titles in 2018 and 2019, and finished as runner up five times during his tenure.

“Ross has helped countless wrestlers achieve all-prep, all-state, All-Metro and all-American status, and every one of his wrestlers improved as an athlete and as a person,” said St. Christopher’s director of athletics Ren O’Ferrall, calling Gitomer’s departure “bittersweet.”

“Ross’ commitment to his wrestlers and their success, both individual and team, has been paramount. He will be missed by the students, the faculty and our wrestlers, but we wish him well in his new endeavor and are excited to support Ross and Blair wrestling for years to come.”

Gitomer also helped the Saints finish in the top 10 at National Preps five times in a row (2016-20).

“I can’t wait to start at Blair, I’m also excited for St. Christopher’s school and wrestling program,” said Gitomer, who is also a math teacher. “The program is full of unbelievable boys, coaches and support systems.”

— Zach Joachim

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