William Monroe High School senior Dupree Rucker just finished a football season for the record books and he and Kaiden Pritchett, defensive back, are heading to the Virginia High School League’s All-Star game on Dec. 15 at the University of Virginia-Wise.
Rucker, the team’s running back, broke the school’s single-season rushing record with 2,060 yards under his belt. The previous record was held by Cordell Burley for the 1991 state champion season.
“Cordell is my cousin,” Rucker said.
Burley had finished his senior season with 1,993 yards in 14 games.
“Rucker eclipsed it in 11 games,” said Monroe head coach Jon Rocha, who was also on the 1991 champion team for William Monroe.
Rucker said football just runs in his family. His nephew Michael McCauley is the next running back for William Monroe, Rocha said.
“I just grew up playing when I was small and I just love to run the ball and all the contact,” said Rucker, 17, who grew up in Greene County.
He began playing when he was around 9 years old on the Greene County Junior Pee Wee Jets, who won the Central Virginia Pop Warner championship against Fluvanna and went on to play in North Carolina.
“There was this whole senior class that went down—the junior and senior classes,” Rocha said.
Rucker, who has only been the running back for the Dragons for the past year and a half, scored a touchdown at the moment he surpassed the record in the regional quarterfinal game against Skyline High School.
“I didn’t know it until they said it over the loudspeaker,” Rucker said. “I knew I was getting close, and did want to reach that goal.”
“He not only earned our single-season record, he earned the title of Central Virginia’s leading rusher,” Rocha said. “He and Jalen Alexander of Orange County High School have been battling it out; they’ve both been sort of watching each other.”
Rocha said it was at the Madison game in the 2018 season that he noticed Dupree’s potential.
“He wasn’t our running back to start the season last year because we were in a different offense, but when we went to Madison that’s when it changed,” Rocha said. “He had a breakout against Madison and it was like, wow, where’d that come from? We watched him and in his five games as a running back last year, he had 800 yards, which is not quite 200 a game like he’s been getting this year, but he was pretty impressive.”
At the start of this season, Rocha told Rucker he’d be getting the ball 40 times a game, but said Rucker didn’t believe him.
“I told him to get ready, but I just don’t think he believed,” he said. “I knew he was going to be big, I didn’t know he was going to be this big.”
While the Dragons fell in the regional quarterfinal game 20-42, Rucker had three touchdowns.
“We lost Logan (Barbour) early in the game, so Skyline just turned all their attention toward Rucker, thinking all they had to do was stop No. 4 now. Well, they didn’t do it. I mean, I don’t want to take anything away from them but Rucker had 213 yards and three touchdowns and that’s with 11 guys who painted a bull’s eye on him,” Rocha said. “It was amazing. It’s been amazing watching him the whole time watching his line, you know, he gives credit to his line. The line is where it starts, you don’t get those yards without them.”
Rocha noted the team had some other firsts this year: the first time the Dragons beat a Jefferson District team in 10 years and the first time they defeated Western Albemarle in more than 20 years.
“There’s so much that they did accomplish and they have to be proud of,” Rocha said. “Western Albemarle is historically a well-oiled machine. After we won that game, they started peeling off wins. I mean, they just win. They’re a very disciplined team and coach Redmond out there does a phenomenal job. I think when you beat a team like that, it changes your mentality.”
“At first I didn’t believe it because like you said Western’s a good team, they’re well coached, but it’s just amazing beating a team that you know wins a lot. It gives you more confidence,” Rucker said. “We just couldn’t believe it. And everyone else was like ‘William Monroe just beat Western?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah!’”
Rucker said he hopes to play in football in college after graduation and Rocha said that’s part of his job for the rest of 2019—to help the boys who want to play in college find a program.
William Monroe will lose 15 players at graduation, but Rocha said it’s not going to be a problem.
“We have a huge group of juniors, too,” he said.
Rucker has some advice for that group of guys.
“Just play as a family and do what you gotta do and walk out with the W,” he said. “I think they’ve got a lot of potential, ya know? Next year—they’re going to be big next year.”
Rocha practically bleeds green, graduating from William Monroe and going on to play football in college before coming back to Greene to coach.
“This is my 26th year in football. I’ve played nine years and one with a college scholarship and now I’m back here and this is my 17th year coaching here. It’s my sixth year as head coach and it’s just been great,” Rocha said.
In those six years, Rocha has had three winning seasons, finishing the regular season this year 6-4.
“It’s a huge step for Monroe, being in the playoffs three times,” he said. “I wanted them to be the first to get a playoff win but fate didn’t have it. We just lost everyone against the best passing team in the district. It just didn’t work out in our favor, and that’s OK.”
Rucker wished they had won, as well.
“But you know, we lost people and even still we went to play,” he said.
Rocha said what he loves about football is the bond that is created among the players.
“It’s not better. It’s not better. I swear,” Rocha said. “It’s just different than a lot of other sports. The bond that you build, it’s just different. Football helps with life; it really does. I think any team sport does. If you make it through college playing football, then you’ve done something because it is demanding.”
And Rucker is not ready to put that football down.
“It’s a hard realization that it’s now over,” said Rucker who has played for Monroe since the eighth grade. “It’s hard going to school and coming home at 3 p.m.—it’s like what do I do now? I’m going to miss William Monroe but I want to go to college to continue doing what I do.”
It was a slow start this season, losing three tough games in a row to start: 2-24 against Turner Ashby; 13-75 against Spotswood; and 7-26 against Clarke County.
The Dragons caught fire at the game against rivals Madison County High School, defeating the Mountaineers 54-21.
“I think everybody looked at us differently, you know, losing the three games and then when we started winning they were like ‘Yeah, that’s Monroe!’,” Rucker said. “I think that is just who we are and I knew that we were going to have a tough three games, but we kept on. And then we bounced back after Brentsville and kept winning games and it was amazing. We all played as a team and we won as a team and we lost as a team.”
Rocha said the team really came together.
“I didn’t want it to end; they’ve been so awesome. They fought through adversity, adversity after adversity. And I said it before; they looked at adversity and kicked its teeth in the whole season,” Rocha said. “Even (at the regional quarterfinals), they looked at adversity and still tried to kick his teeth in and because it was 20-14 in the third quarter, they just weren’t giving up. But sometimes, you know, the circumstances just overwhelm you.”
Rocha said the support he gets from the community is great, but credits the support he gets from the school administration, too.
“From top to bottom, from Brian (Collier), the athletic director, to Katie (Brunelle), the principal, they support our football team,” Rocha said. They support all sports, and they’ve given me so much support. And Andrea Whitmarsh (the superintendent of Greene County Public Schools), she is just phenomenal when it comes to supporting everything; I’m talking everything about Greene—the teachers and sports—she’s done so much and I don’t think people realize it.”
For Rucker, he credits Rocha and the team with the success.
“Rocha has taught me a lot,” he said. “We all played as a team and I’m sad that it’s over, but that’s life. I love each and every one of the guys and when we go to college, everybody’s going to know where we’re from.”