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Three questions: Caroline

CAROLINE CAVALIERS

Coach: Jeremiah Ross (second year)

Last year’s record: 3-7

Last playoff season: 2007

HAS ROSS CHANGED THE CULTURE AND EXPECTATIONS OF THE PROGRAM?

The Cavaliers have made one playoff appearance since they competed for a regional championship in 1993.

Ross is Caroline’s third head coach since Robert Jenkins resigned following the ’08 season. The Cavaliers haven’t won more than three games in a season since Jenkins departed, and the program’s morale has suffered.

Ross showed signs of breathing life into the program early in 2012 when Caroline started the season 3-2 with competitive losses to Essex and King William.

But the five-game losing streak that was punctuated by a 52-0 loss to previously winless Culpeper hindered the progress Ross believed the team had made.

“We didn’t play well at the end of the season,” Ross said. “I don’t need to talk about that.”

Ross’ offseason evaluation brought on some changes. One key issue was improving the accountability and competitive spirit of his players.

The Cavaliers had offseason team-bonding activities, such as Cav Weekend, a sleepover in the school’s gymnasium that included a lift-a-thon, tug-of-war, obstacle course, GPA contest and other team-related activities.

“The whole idea was to put them into these competitive situations and make them deal with wins and losses and good plays and bad plays and see how they react to them,” Ross said. “We wanted them to build each other up so when they do stub their toe, lose a game or do something stupid, they know how to react to it. It was a fun, competitive environment, where it’s not Friday night.”

Ross said he can tell early on that more of his players are buying into his philosophies this upcoming season.

“Is it where it needs to be? No,” Ross said of the cultural makeover. “But we’ve made some big strides.”

WILL THE OFFENSIVE LINE ALLOW THE SKILL PLAYERS TO SHINE?

Ross said sophomore quarterback Rasharrd Harris has the skill set to be special player. He has a plethora of big and fast wide receivers to throw to and Ross excels at teaching the passing game.

Caroline opened eyes at multiple 7-on-7 passing tournaments in the offseason, including a 5-1 mark at an event at Stafford High School.

However, the game is much different when blocking and tackling comes into play, and the Cavaliers weren’t up to Ross’ standards at either in 2012.

Former quarterback Curtis Leacock was one of the Fredericksburg-area’s leading passers, but he often found himself under pressure.

Ross said that has the potential to change this season.

“I really think we can be pretty good up front,” Ross said. “All of our guys are returning from last year plus one other. So I’ve got six guys that played throughout the year.”

But despite the experience, Ross said improvements must be made. He said the Cavaliers ran the ball “poorly” last season, and that should get better.

He said right guard Dylan Roberts is the leader of the group because he’s “always doing the right things.”

He said center Lavell Wright is perhaps the most talented, but he wants him to be consistent. If the entire group gels it could lead to a major turnaround for the Cavaliers.

“Those are the guys that control the tempo,” Ross said. “We’ve got to play a lot faster than we did last year. When they stand around everybody else stands around. It rises and falls on them.”

HOW MUCH IMPACT WILL THE SWITCH TO THE 3-4 DEFENSE HAVE?

Another observation Ross made following last season was that the Cavaliers didn’t have the manpower up front to run a conventional 4-3 defense.

So in order to get more of his athletes on the field, he has switched to a 3-4 this season. Ross said in his first year he didn’t have a lot of evaluation time in the offseason so he employed a basic defense

“We just went with something pretty simple,” Ross said. “The whole philosophy was to be basic up front, keep everything in front of us in the secondary, rally, get to the ball and be physical when we got there.”

It didn’t always work.

So this season, Ross said he’s going to unleash his athletes and let them fly to the ball.

“It goes back to what do you have?” Ross said. “Build around what you have. We’re going to tend to be faster than bigger and we want to capitalize on that.”

Ross said nose tackle Oliver Johnson has potential to man the middle of the defensive line. Also, Jaylen Cohd, a transfer from North Carolina, is expected to be a standout at defensive end. Inside linebackers Chad Boxley and C.J. Wright are both seniors with valuable experience.

“The kids have bought into it,” Ross said of the new defense. “They like it because they’re able to go a little faster and be more aggressive.”

–Taft Coghill, Jr.

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