Football recruiters are very familiar with Daleville, Virginia after the success the Lord Botetourt football team has enjoyed in recent years. The Cavaliers are 78-23 in the eight seasons since Jamie Harless took over as head coach, including two trips to the state championship game.
A ninth season almost didn’t happen due to the coronavirus pandemic, as the fall football season was wiped out by health concerns. However, the Virginia High School League set guidelines for teams to play in the late winter and spring and this Saturday at 1 p.m. the Cavaliers will host George Washington of Danville to open what should be another big year for the home team.
Botetourt is loaded with college-bound players. Already signing to continue their football careers are Hunter Rice at West Point, Xavier Stephens at Liberty University, Zach Horton at James Madison, Bryson Oliver at Charleston Southern, Frank Sawyers at Bluefield State and three players headed to Appalachian State, Kyle Arnholt, Colston Powers and Troy Everett.
“And there’s going to be more,” said Harless. “I would expect a dozen or so players from this team will play in college, at least double digits.”
Like Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility,” or you might substitute “great expectations.” With all these college-bound players, people are going to expect the Cavaliers to play like a college team.
“I’m just looking for them to play to their potential,” said Harless. “I’m never concerned about wins or losses, I’m just concerned about playing up to our potential. Our players need to play up to it and our coaches need to coach up to it. It’s a 50-50 thing.”
The Cavaliers left a possible state championship on the table last year after a 35-7 loss to an equally talented Hopewell team in the Class 3 final at Liberty University. LB was 14-0 to that point and a strong group of seniors may see that as unfinished business, but Harless has a different take on the situation.
“Every year is a new year,” he said. “We’re not concerned about last year.”
The Cavaliers won’t win 14 games this year, because the team is only playing a six-game schedule. Then, the top four in each region make the playoffs instead of the usual eight, so even if the Cavaliers return to the championship game they will play a maximum of 10 games. However, that looks pretty good compared to what might have been back in the fall.
“At this point anything is good,” said Harless. “Our last game was 15 months ago and most teams have gone longer than that. We’re just glad to be able to play.”
The Cavaliers will be strong up front with size and experience, and Harless knows whoever controls the line of scrimmage wins the game. Powers, Everett, Sawyers, Trey Reiter III and Gunner Givens, a junior who is one of the top recruits in the country, headline a deep group of offensive linemen. Stephens, Oliver, Horton and Carson Peggins give LB a stable of talented tight ends and Botetourt will rotate in a lot of players on the line.
“Every junior or senior will play, and a few freshmen and sophomores,” said Harless. “With the shortened season we have a ton of kids going both ways.”
Hunter Rice returns at running back. A four-year stud, he missed half the regular season with an ankle injury last year but returned to contribute over 2,000 yards of offense. He’ll be headed to West Point, and what better person to protect the country.
“He’s tougher than nails and very talented,” said Harless. “If I was in a fox hole, he’s the one I’d want next to me.”
Senior Dylan Wade also returns at running back and underclassmen Evan Overbay, Marcus Thomas and Bryce Harrison should all get carries.
At quarterback, three players have been vying for time, senior Sammy Peery, junior KJ Bratton II and a talented freshman, Jakari Nicely. They could all see varsity snaps.
“They’re all about the same,” said Harless. “Experience is big, so Sammy has the edge, but they’ll all play. They’re all good football players.”
Senior Arnholt returns at wide receiver, and he’s a good one. At 6’3” and 200 pounds he has good speed and great hands.
Bryson Harvey is slated to do the place kicking. Senior Mikey Rago is a great punter and can also kick. Both Harvey and Rago have a shot at making a field goal from 50 yards in.
On defense, LB has many of the same players, and enough depth to rotate them in and out as needed. Rice is a standout linebacker and Arnholt is a ball hawk in the secondary. The Cavaliers held their opponent to two touchdowns or less in 12 of their 15 games last year and this unit should be equally good.
Harless will be assisted by Josh Aliveto, Don Rice, Woody Nixon, Eric Driscoll, Gary Burdette, Hillard Rooklin, Caleb Quinn, Dan Lythgoe, Dave Anderson and Jeff Fralin. They’ve had their work cut out for them preparing for a late winter start as the Botetourt practice field is at the bottom of a hill and collects water easily, making it impossible to practice on after a hard rain or, in this case, a snow and ice storm. The preseason was shortened to three weeks and teams were stripped of the normal two preseason scrimmages, which coaches deem to be very important. However, everyone is in the same boat, so to speak.
“I’m just glad these kids are getting the opportunity to play,” said Harless. “They continued to work hard in the weight room, and this is probably the strongest team we’ve ever had. It would have been a shame if they didn’t get the chance to play.”