There is a different atmosphere at the J.E.B. Stuart High School practice field this summer – a new coach has stepped in, the losing mentality that has plagued the Varsity football team for the past few years seems to be gone and the team has gotten bigger, faster and stronger.
More so, the Stuart Varsity team has developed a newfound killer instinct.
Coach Roy Ferri, who has bled orange and blue – Stuart’s colors – since the 1980s is beginning his second tenure as Raider head coach.
Ferri began his coaching career at Stuart in 1981, and then coached at nearby Centerville and Lake Braddock before returning to J.E.B. Stuart as the head coach in 1998 before stepping down after the 2001 season. Ferri also has two athletic daughters who played three sports during their time at Stuart. “I have a deep loyalty to both the school and the community,” he said.
Not only has Ferri restored pride in the program, he has installed an offense devoted to a power running game, and a big play passing game, utilizing Stuart’s speed at the receiver position.
In addition to speedy wideouts, the Raiders have depth at the running back position that will allow their backs to stay fresh throughout game, letting them to pound away at opposing defenses while still keeping them honest with the threat of a deep bomb.
The Raiders expect to create match up problems at every offensive position causing headaches for every opposing coach they face.
In addition to the strong core of skill players, Stuart has several mammoth offensive linemen opening holes this year. The starting offensive line averages a whopping 260 pounds apiece. The linemen have adopted Coach Ferri’s enthusiasm, and have worked hard all summer both in the weight room and in the trenches to become bigger and stronger, in addition to refining their skills.
On the defensive side, the Raiders are a little more stretched for talent. They have several big bodies up front, but the secondary lacks the explosive speed they possess on offense. However, the big men up on the front line fully expect to be able to clog running lanes and shut down opposing ground attacks, taking pressure off the defensive backs.
Ferri plans to play Division six style “smash mouth” football in a Division five district. This style of play requires physical domination at every position on the field in order to be successful, something Ferri believes his team can do.
Despite having a team that is 0-18 over the past two seasons, Ferri sees this as a completely different group with a wholly fresh attitude and much higher expectations.
He adds: “Our goal is plain and simple: to make the playoffs. With this current team, we have a chance To go deep into the post-season.”
While the term “playoff run” might not have been uttered at Stuart since Ferri’s first tenure with the team, the dour outlook might change in the coming months.
The National District is up for grabs this year, even for a team that is winless in its past two seasons. Across town, rivals Yorktown and Falls Church High Schools are stuck in twilight periods, and other teams that have beaten up the Raiders in the past might likely be caught off-guard by Stuart’s new swagger.
Stuart’s first test, as well as Ferri’s first since returning, will be against another local team in George Mason. Traditionally, Mason sets the tone for the Raiders season by dominating on all sides of the ball at Stuart. This year however, Stuart will make the short trip to Mason’s Moore Cadillac Stadium, in hope that, for once, they might return the favor.
Stuart has always been a school community that takes pride in their football team. They have an outstanding marching band that puts on field shows during both pre-game and at halftime.
Likewise, Stuart has a student body that regularly comes out and cheers for the Varsity football team on Friday nights, despite knowing what the outcome will be.
However, this year might finally be the year it all comes together for the Raiders. With a new coach and a new state of mind, Stuart has no intentions of remaining the doormat of Northern Virginia high school football.
“The change has already happened”, said Ferri. “We have restored pride in the program. We have shown that we can compete with anyone.”