When the spring sports season was officially cancelled by the Virginia High School League last week, thoughts are now turning to the fall season. The first football practice is less than three months away and the state of Virginia is just starting to reopen.
Never the less, Lord Botetourt High School football coach Jamie Harless remains optimistic. He has a strong team returning after a trip to the state final last year, and high hopes the boys will be able to hit the practice field in Daleville come August.
“I’m the ultimate optimist,” said Harless. “I think it’s going to happen. Studies show it(the virus) doesn’t spread well outside and, at some point, you have to sit back and take a look at things. I think we’re going to play.”
Right now Jamie has to call ahead just to get in the building at Lord Botetourt High School. He can’t go in the fieldhouse and only 10 people are allowed in the school building at a time.
“It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever encountered,” he said.
As football fans know, one of the most important things in building a strong team is having strong players, and the Cavaliers have not been able to get into the weight room for over two months. The area gyms have also been closed, but the LB players have been doing their best to muscle up.
“They’re doing everything they can,” said Harless. “Some of them have weights at home. At the least they can go out and pick up rocks. They’re all working hard.”
Few teams in the area have higher expectations than this year’s LB team. The Cavaliers have six players with 10 or more offers from college teams, some from the best conferences in the nation.
According to Harless, rising junior Gunner Givens has received close to 40 offers from college programs, including the likes of defending national champion LSU and Southeastern Conference rivals Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Penn State, Florida State and Southern California are also among the impressive list of schools who are offering a scholarship to the 6’6”, 265 pound tight end and defensive lineman.
“They like his size and his highlights are really good,” said Harless. “He’ll keep getting more offers.”
Colston Powers, a rising senior lineman, had over a dozen offers before committing to Appalachian State. He’ll play on the offensive line for the Mountaineers.
Hunter Rice, a rising senior runningback and linebacker, has the University of Virginia, Coastal Carolina, Liberty and the service academies calling with regularity. He’s also gotten a lot of attention from Ivy League schools.
Rice wants to be a runningback on the next level, although he could just as easily play defense. After suffering an ankle injury in last year’s season opener Hunter missed the first five games, but he returned in mid-October and looked sharp down the stretch and in the playoffs as LB finished 14-1 on the season.
Rising senior lineman Troy Everett has over 25 offers, including Virginia Tech, Liberty, Coastal Carolina, Toledo and the service academies. Likewise, classmate Xavier Stephens has offers from Army, Navy, Coastal, Richmond and a host of Ivy League schools among his suitors. Xavier’s older brother, Isiah, is headed to Coastal Carolina this fall after being named Region 3D Defensive Player of the Year for the Cavaliers’ in 2019.
Kyle Arnholt, another rising senior, has about 20 offers from a list that includes the University of Massachusetts, Fordham and several Ivy League schools, Dartmouth among them. Kyle is a receiver and Dartmouth’s receivers coach is David Shula, who was impressed by Kyle’s highlight reel. David is the son of the late Don Shula, who passed away last week at 90 years old and is the all-time winningest coach in the National Football League with 347 wins.
“I fully expect we’ll have some more kids getting offers before the season is over,” said Harless. “Maybe as many as 10.”
The Cavaliers have become a factory for football scholarships over the eight years Jamie has been head coach. In addition to leading the team to a 78-23 record and two state runnerup seasons, he’s worked hard to help the kids find a home on the next level. The Cavaliers have had about 30 kids play college football since Jamie has been head coach. While not every high school coach goes the extra mile to help players find a home, Harless is willing and happy to do so.
“We’ve had a ton of kids getting a free education,” he said. “That’s not only good for our program, it’s a big economic impact on the county.”
In addition to the varsity’s 14-1 season last year, the jayvees were 9-1 and Read Mountain Middle School was 7-1. Jamie is already putting out the word on future standouts like rising freshmen Jakari Nicely and DJ Toliver.
“I actually start telling coaches about them when they’re in the seventh or eighth grade,” said Harless. “We have a list of middle school kids who are starting to get attention.”
With that in mind, it would be very disappointing for Cavalier football at all levels if the pandemic cuts into the coming fall season. A lot can happen in three months, but right now Harless and his staff are going about their jobs like it’s going to happen.
Only not in the fieldhouse.