FORT DEFIANCE — After four years of gridiron futility, the Fort Defiance Indians may be turning the corner.
Looking to build off last year’s 5-5 mark, Fort is set to take aim at a winning season and a spot in the Region 3C playoffs.
Beginning in 2014, the Indians posted a 2-38 record that included a 25-game losing streak over the next four seasons.
A year ago, however, Fort gave its fans reason for optimism. The Indians posted a .500 record and narrowly missed earning a spot in the postseason.
“Regardless of the year, there’s always optimism during the preseason,” said veteran coach Dan Rolfe, now entering his 11th season at Fort Defiance. “This year is no different. I’m excited about the team and looking forward to the season. We want to build off the success we experienced a year ago and take that next step forward as a program.”
Fort rode its defense for much of the 2018 season as the Indians allowed just a tick over 16 points per game. In its five victories, the Indians held their opponents to an average of less than 10 points per outing.
“We’ve got bookends on our defense, a couple of really good players in Addison Knicely and Traevon Winston that we can build that defense around,” Rolfe said. “Addison was kind of our leader on that side of the football last year, probably our best player. And Traevon Winston had a really good year at defensive end. We feel really good about those two guys and we’ve got a good group of kids around them on that side of the football.”
Knicely was a first-team all-Valley District pick at safety a year ago. He averaged more than 10 tackles per game. Winston was a second-team all-Valley selection.
If the Indians want to move past the .500 mark this season, they will likely need the offense to be more productive. During the 2018 season, Fort was held to less than 20 points in eight of its 10 games.
Rolfe, however, likes the personnel he has back on the offensive unit.
“Up front, we’ve got a lot of guys back who got some playing time last year along the line,” he said. “Our running backs return and we have a deep group of receivers. And we’ve got our quarterback back. I’m excited to see what this group can do.”
Leading the offense will be senior quarterback Austin Monroe, a three-year starter.
“He’s been through the ups and the downs. He knows what he’s doing back there,” Rolfe said.
Coming off the breakeven season, the expectations at Fort are bit different in 2019.
“There’s definitely a different feel,” Rolfe said. “Now, it’s not can we win a game, it’s how many can we win. We’ve got enough guys back that it doesn’t feel like we’re starting over. It feels like we’re building. If we all can just get a little bit better this season, we could be pretty good.”
Pretty good could give Fort its first winning season and its first postseason appearance since 2012 when the Indians finished 7-4, including a first-round playoff loss to Northside.
The Indians are moving from the Valley District to the Shenandoah District this season, putting all five county schools in the same district along with Staunton.
“Except for Riverheads, we’ve been playing the other county schools,” Rolfe said. “The difference this year is those games come a little later in the season, and they’re a little more important because they’re district games.”
Fort went 2-1 in county games a year ago with wins over Stuarts Draft (17-10) and Wilson Memorial (21-14), while falling to Buffalo Gap (32-13) to open the season.
This year the Indians add Riverheads and Staunton to complete a five-game district slate. Fort has nondistrict games set with Liberty-Bedford and Stonewall Jackson along with clashes against former Valley District rivals Broadway, Waynesboro and Rockbridge County.