Ashburn Football: What Offseason?
Training is a year-round affair for Ashburn high school football teams, and is a key reason for their continued success.
Summer vacation for high school students is supposed to be about rest, relaxation and fun in the sun. But for football players at the highly successful and competitive programs run by Briar Woods, Stone Bridge and Broad Run high schools, summertime means work.
Grueling weight-lifting sessions, conditioning drills and regular practices help prepare the players for the rigors of the upcoming season. While all the extra work means less time for the beach, players and coaches alike agree the sacrifices are worth it; such drive is the likely why the Ashburn area has emerged as a hot bed of talent and success.
Over the next two weeks, Ashburn Patch will provide an insiders view of all three school's offseason programs, beginning with today's look at the two-time defending state champion Briar Woods Falcons.
[Follow Sean on Twitter @locosportsbeat for coverage of all things related to Ashburn sports.]
This Offseason the Falcons Soared... Like Ravens?
How do you improve a team that just won consecutive state titles? For Briar Woods head coach Charlie Pierce, the decision was clear: hit the road to take on the best competition in neighboring states.
Earlier this summer, the Falcons participated in the Baltimore Ravens Seven-on-Seven Football Tournament. The format was simple: seventy-two of the region's best high school football teams sent their best skill position players—quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers on offense, and defensive backs and linebackers on defense—to take on opponents in the passing-only competition.
Led by junior quarterback Trace McSorley and Wake Forest-bound tight end Cam Serigne, the Falcons knocked off Urbana and hometown Frederick to advance to the regional finals against nationally renowned Good Counsel. The Olney, MD, private school finished last season undefeated and ranked as the sixth best team in the country by USA Today; and enters this season once again ranked in the top fifteen of several national polls.
Despite the tough matchup, McSorley's sharp passing and leadership helped beat Good Counsel for the regional crown. Both teams advanced to the tournament's final weekend at the Ravens M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. There, the Virginia and Maryland high school powerhouses met once again—under the NFL stadium lights—in the championship game, and Good Counsel edged the Falcons with a last-second score to win the tournament.
"It was very good competition, they had a bunch of Division 1 players everywhere," Serigne said about Good Counsel. "It's good to get our guys out there and compete against the best. That's what we have to do before the season."
The Falcons then headed to West Virginia where they took part in a tournament hosted by two-time defending AAA state champs Martinsburg High School. Once again the Falcons advanced to the tournament's championship game, losing again in the final moments. But they came away with great experience.
"We were in very competitive seven-on-seven tournaments this summer," said Pierce, whose team also competed in the Ashburn Youth Football League seven-on seven camp at Stone Bridge High School. "Any time you can get out and throw and catch against some competition it's going to help you out."
Bigger, Stronger, Faster
While passing leagues and practices help develop skill, perhaps the biggest focus for most players in the offseason is strength and conditioning. That means lots of weightlifting and running under the watchful eyes of assistant coach Jared Develli, a former Virginia Tech player who models the Falcons’ conditioning program on the Hokies’ method.
"We have a very intricate lifting program,” said returning lineman Nick Merletti. “We do a lot of things a lot of other schools probably wouldn't."
The Falcons’ focus on explosive, Olympic-style lifts, such as power cleans, squats and bench press. The 90-minute weight-training sessions precede 60-minute conditioning drills on the track, with timed sprints and other drills. Failure to complete the runs in the allotted time means more running.
The offseason conditioning program also serves as a showcase for college recruiters to see players—such as the highly touted linebacker and South Carolina commit Matt Rolin—up close and personal.
"We had no less than 30 colleges come to our Tuesday and Thursday morning conditioning sessions this spring,” Pierce said, noting the high level of schools watching. “At one point, we had Oklahoma, Ohio State, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech."
For many of the Falcons, the results of the hardcore training regimen are apparent and measurable. Merletti was identified as the strongest player in the weight room by several teammates, with a 325-lbs. bench press and unparalleled overall strength.
"He can lift a house," Serigne said.
With Rolin now benching nearly 300 pounds himself, he and Merletti seem poised to use their increased strength to lead the Falcons’ notoriously stout defense to big things this season.
McSorley has added both strength and speed, putting on a reported 20 pounds of muscle while improving his 40-yard dash time from 4.8 to 4.5 seconds. McSorley attributes his improved speed to the team workouts and specialized training he does with Adam Wooten of Pure Speed LLC.
While offseason training is important for the Falcons’ returning starters, it can also be a time for younger players and newcomers to make names for themselves before putting on the pads. Pierce noted that Brandon Polk, John Hirsch and Josh Jacobs all distinguished themselves this spring and summer through workouts, and may contribute on the field in the fall.
It's Worth It
Despite missing out on some of the joys of the lazy days of summer, not a single player or coach had any regrets about the rigors of the Falcon offseason program, and view it as fundamental to their winning ways.
"I think it's the key to our success. I believe we work harder than anyone else," said Serigne.
Pierce said, "We have a group of very hard working young men, great work ethics. The only thing I worry about is some of them overtraining."
Based on their record the past two seasons, it doesn't look like overtraining has been, or will be, a problem for the Falcons.