Mason Football Prepares to Try to Build on Turnaround Season

Sophomore wide receiver and defensive back Dustin Green (left) throws out a stiff arm against one of his teammates during 11-on-11 drills. A two-way starter last season, Green is one of several George Mason football players expected to step up to replace departed players. (Photo: News-Press)
Sophomore wide receiver and defensive back Dustin Green (left) throws out a stiff arm against one of his teammates during 11-on-11 drills. A two-way starter last season, Green is one of several George Mason football players expected to step up to replace departed players. (Photo: News-Press)

On the first Thursday of the George Mason High School’s varsity football team’s training camp George Mason head coach Tony Green blew his whistle to pause the team’s pursuit drill.

Some of the less experienced players on the team, under the intense summer sun, had started dragging their feet during and after the drill; some failed to ask questions to clarify how the drill was supposed to be executed – and it showed.

So Green reminded players that there would be no special treatment in George Mason’s football program, that no individual players would be valued over the team as a whole.

“Well, as a team it takes all 11 players to be a unit. So everybody’s got to understand that whatever their job is, whatever their mission is, that’s what they have to do,” Green later explained.

“And when you’re in a school environment, we can differentiate your learning, we can meet your needs in different ways in the class room…but on the football field you don’t do that. The ball is snapped and everybody has to know what to do.”

Green said that he can deal with players having physical impediments by making sure they heal or get stronger or they try out at another position. But he can’t tolerate mental mistakes.

“That’s what I was trying to get across…when you’re a football player you have to do everything right to the best of your ability,” Green said. “And if you don’t know what to do, you need to stop and ask. Don’t just run around and think nobody will notice because we’ll notice everything you do.”

So he had to help those players without varsity football experience acclimate to his coaching philosophy and what’s expected of them at the varsity level. Green later said that his team is young, but intense.

Just as intense as they were last season, when they earned their first winning record since 2009 and made an appearance in the postseason for the first time since 2006.

This year, despite losing several starters on offense and defense, the George Mason Mustangs are focused on building on their 6-4 record and advancing past the first round of the Virginia High School League (VHSL) playoffs.

And Green, who’s in the third year of his second run helming George Mason’s football team, is trying to teach his players that they’ll have to earn any success – and respect – they get this season.

“We just have to earn our respect through our district. I mean going 6-4 was a big improvement but, like I told the guys, that doesn’t guarantee 6-4 again,” Green said.

“You have to earn 6-4, again and every time you have to treat each opponent with respect and try to get better every week. And I think they’re doing that – I think they’re really trying to do that.”

All-District junior running back D'Montae Noble reaches down to catch a ball during George Mason's  training camp. (Photo: News-Press)
All-District junior running back D’Montae Noble reaches down to catch a ball during George Mason’s
training camp. (Photo: News-Press)

Keep Moving Forward

The Mustangs lost a relatively small senior class – six players – over the offseason. But most of those players, like All-District fullback and defensive end Connor Rhodes or Nathaniel Ward at safety, played a key role in the team’s turnaround from a 1-9 record in 2012 to a 6-4 record last season.

Additionally, the Mustangs lost their All-District wide receiver, Alfonso Banks, and their All-District linebacker, Marcellus Piper; Banks transferred to Bishop McNamara High School and Piper’s family moved out of the country.

Hunter Sulc, the Mustangs other starting linebacker and Rhodes backup fullback last season, is the starting fullback this season. He said that the team lost a lot of skill with the departures of Rhodes and Piper.

“The only thing that we can really do to replace them is – one thing is effort and making sure we’re always trying our best and never taking a play off,” Sulc said. “And the other thing is just [having] good technique.”

Davis Hagigh, a senior offensive and defensive lineman for the Mustangs, said that despite the losses from last season’s roster, the team is better prepared this season than they were last season.

“The guys we have right now can replicate and possibly look to build upon what we did last year,” Hagigh said.
Hagigh said the Mustangs have players ready to step up to replace the team’s defensive losses.

“We’re able to fill the positions with guys who are seasoned veterans when comes to varsity football and just football in general,” Hagigh said. “So defense should not be a real area of concern because we’re filling what needs to be filled with guys who can do it as well as the guys who did before and have left us.”

Another big loss for the Mustangs was the departure of Eddie McGhee, a former professional football player who was the Mustangs’ defensive back coach last season but is coaching college football this season.

D’Montae Noble, George Mason’s junior running back and defensive back, said that McGhee was a great coach.

“I think he’s actually our main reason why we went into the playoffs because he taught us a different strategy on defense and actually had us play better defense and pursue tackles,” Noble said.

“It has an impact that we lost him, but we’ve got to keep moving forward.”

Senior quarterback and safety Sam Selby looks for an open receiver during the Mustangs 11-on-11 drills. (Photo: News-Press)
Senior quarterback and safety Sam Selby looks for an open receiver during the Mustangs 11-on-11 drills. (Photo: News-Press)

Focused, but Fun Football

Sam Selby, the Mustangs’ top cornerback last season and the team’s starting quarterback this season, had to cover Noble, a speedy, All-District running back, during a 1-on-1 coverage drill at the Mustangs’ first week of practice. Noble darted past Selby and caught a pass from Adam Amerine, one of the assistant coaches on the team.

Then Noble dropped the ball after running a few yards so the next players could take their turn at the drill.

Selby picked up the ball and threw it at Noble, jokingly, and the pair laughed back to the line where their fellow defensive backs were standing.

That was one of few instances of goofing around at the Mustangs’ training camp. That’s because, according to Green, his players are intensely focused.

“We’re a very focused football team right now. We don’t have a lot of unfocused kids – everybody’s jumping in, everybody’s learning,” Green said. “Our intensity level is just as high as it was last season.”

That was one of the few times Green referred to the 2013 George Mason football team when talking about the 2014 George Mason football team.

Sometimes, he would refer to the 2013 George Mason football squad as ‘that team’, as if they’re something wholly separate from the team going into this season. Noble said that his coach knows there will never be another team like the one from last season.

“All he knows is that he wants to work back up to that point where we’re not that same team but we’re as good or better,” Noble said.

“So we’ve all been in the weight room in the preseason [and] throwing [and] running the ball. Even out of practice we’re working out, trying to make sure we stay fit and we don’t get into our own way of being lazy.”

Dustin Green, a sophomore wide receiver and defensive back and Tony Green’s son, said that the team is actually more focused going into this season than they were going into last season.

“Last year, I mean, we were focused, but there was a little bit more drama, there was a little bit more infighting because we were getting used to winning,” Dustin Green said.

“So now we’re winning and some people didn’t know how to handle it but they got better throughout the year and at the end of the year we were focused like we are now. But now we know how to win, so we’re just focused.”

The Mustangs had to adjust to having success last season after four consecutive losing seasons. This season, they have to cope with losses in the senior leadership and talented players.

But they still have a core of older players who experienced the transformation of the program from a losing one to a winning one and can aid with trying to build on the success from last season.

According to Selby, there isn’t much difference between the leadership styles of the older players on the team this season from the older players last season.

The major difference, Selby said, was that the upperclassmen on the team this season decided early on that they were going to try to have fun on the football field while giving 110 percent.

“We have fun together and we try to take football pretty lightly,” Selby said. “We realize we’re better when we have more fun.”

The Mustangs will see their first action of the 2014 season this Friday against Brentsville District High School in a scrimmage at George Mason High School.