A year after going unbeaten in their district, the Mustangs strive for a new identity in 2007.
Most teams would be content with a 2006 season that saw them lose zero contests in their district, snap the twenty-eight game winning streak of one of their district rivals, and in which they came just two scores of upending the eventual state champions. The George Mason High School Mustangs did just that last year — and they are far from content heading into 2007.
Armed and reloaded with an extremely deep and experienced backfield, as well as some of the best lineman in the Bull Run District and a two-year starter behind center, the George Mason High School varsity football team sits in a prime position to repeat as Bull Run District champions and perhaps get even further than last year's first round Region B berth.
The 2006 squad, who finished 6-4 overall with a 5-0 district record, relied heavily on a vaunted defense to win games. In their six wins, the Mustangs shut out two opponents and held another three under 14 points.
However, Mason Head Coach Tom Horn figures his team will have to put up significantly more points on the scoreboard in order to secure victory this year, as Bull Run District Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Larcamp and defensive linemen Ben Zorn and Ed Hickey have all departed.
“Our strength this year is the running game,” said Horn. “We have a lot of experience in the backfield and in order to ultimately achieve the goal of outscoring our opponents, we’re going to have to rely on those guys.”
Senior Austin Lucas, a three-year varsity starter and a member of the All-Bull Run team last year, anchors an offensive line that figures to pave the way for one of the deeper backfields to grace the halls and the gridiron at George Mason in recent memory.
A plethora of junior runners in Joel Chandler, Antoneo Folks, and brothers Charlie and John Mann, as well as senior bruiser Sean Mondragon look to fill the void left behind by graduating fullback Eddie Huber, a thousand-yard rusher last year.
Senior Brady Hatfield, both a vocal and a physical leader on this year's Mason squad, echoed Horns comments, saying “Antoneo and Joel have been looking good throughout summer practices.”
Hatfield, who has been an anchor on the line for throughout his varsity football career, has been sidelined with an MCL strain and a meniscus separation. He will be out 3-6 weeks but will not have surgery. His presence is still felt on the sidelines however, as throughout practice he barks instructions to his younger comrades.
After graduating players such as Huber and Larcamp, whom Horn referred to as “star players,” the Mustangs roster is littered with solid, experienced upperclassmen, most of whom have so far played only a supporting role on the gridiron for Mason.
“We have no true star players left on this roster,” Horn mentioned. “Last year we had players who every coach in the district knew. This year, however, we have former supporting role players who will have to step into that star status.”
One player who could make such an ascension by the end of the year is quarterback Mike Schwengel. Schwengel, a senior, anchored the offense throughout all of last year’s district title campaign and will return under center for the Mustangs.
“Mike is a dynamic player whose sheer athletic ability can potentially make him the best quarterback in the district,” commented Horn. “Also, Joel's [Chandler] size and athleticism makes him a player who could potentially fill that star role.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Mustangs traditionally line up three defensive lineman and five linebackers. After losing Huber and Larcamp, Mason is left with a lack of experience at the linebacker spot.
“We have some guys stepping up,” said Hatfield. “Freshman Ryan Trout has been really good as of late, so has Sean [Mondragon].”
Charlie Mann and seniors Lonnie Millard, Barrett Kennett and Russell Intermaggio figure to fill out the remaining linebacker positions, as they seek to get the defense back to the powerhouse it was last year.
Many defensive players, more so than offensive according to Horn, will also have to push themselves in order to become true stars on the squad.
“Last year Austin [Lucas] was a supporting member on defense, he had a small role behind Ryan [Larcamp] and Ben [Zorn]. This year, however, he has to make the transition to being a true run-stopper and a playmaker.
“Sean and the Mann brothers are hands down going to have to play a huge role this year,” said Horn. “Sean, definitely, will have to be the best player on defense for us.”
At a small school such as Mason, nearly every player will have to play both ways, as the speed and skill of the backfield will transfer over into the secondary. Schwengel will be the safety, while Chandler and Folks will play the corner spots to shut down opposing receivers.
Following the squad that went undefeated in the district and snapped Manassas Park’s 28-game winning streak will be a tough task, as Horn mentioned that many of the rising seniors and juniors continue to compare themselves to last year’s team.
Hatfield also mentioned that the enthusiasm and focus is really good among the players, something Horn echoed as well.
“Anxiety and anticipation for games can set in early,” said Horn. “Frustration is also high, but that will go away once games start and they realize they are different from last year’s team.”
George Mason will field almost exactly the same schedule, except for the addition of a game against fellow Region B member Page County. The hardest non-district game, unsurprisingly, figures to be against defending state champion Goochland High, led by the reigning state offensive player of the year, senior D.J. Coles.
While a season opening non-district meeting at cross-town rival J.E.B. Stuart looms this Friday, the eyes of the Mustangs seem to be squarely fixed on their November 9 home meeting with Strasburg High.
Strasburg fell to Mason 21-13 to close out the Mustangs’ undefeated district schedule last year, a win that secured the Bull Run title in the process.
When asked who their main competition would be this year, Hatfield promptly responded: “Strasburg. Our goal is to beat Strasburg. They were the biggest game last year and will be again this year.”
“The gap has closed significantly between the teams in the past couple of years in our district,” remarked Horn. “Besides us, I can think of three teams that could challenge for the championship.”
Madison County and Strasburg, with their prominent rushing attacks, and Manassas Park look to dethrone the Mustangs this year. Manassas Park reloads with what can only be referred to as “another Terrell,” a freshman relative of Zach and Jay Terrell, two of the best quarterbacks to play in the Bull Run in the recent past.
“Our goals as a team are always high,” noted Coach Horn. “They have to be attainable and challenging or else the kids will back down from them. I think we can set repeating as district champs as an attainable goal.”
From merely glimpsing practice, however, it is evident that just repeating is not enough to the team, especially such seniors as Hatfield.
“Everybody on our team would be disappointed to not get past districts, especially the returning guys who got to the region tournament last year. Getting back there is kind of expected.”