High school football fans are set to rejoice Thursday as several Central Virginia programs take the field for their first practice of the season.

The “Dog days of August” practices will soon be followed by Friday night lights and the quest to achieve Central Virginia immortality as state champions. Monticello (2007), Madison County (1999) and William Monroe (1991) are the only three Central Virginia public schools to win state titles on the gridiron.

On the private school level, Fork Union Military Academy has won eight Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association crowns, including five straight from 1995-99. St. Anne’s-Belfield has six state crowns, including back-to-back titles in 1998-99 and 2006-07, and Blue Ridge has three.

Last fall, The Covenant School captured the inaugural Virginia Independent Schools Football League 8-man state title with a win over STAB.

Here are several storylines to whet your pallet as local football teams gear up for the 2019 season.

Will Louisa’s dominance continue?The Lions captured back-to-back Jefferson District football championships in 2017 and 2018 and continue to be the premier program in Central Virginia. The Lions have won 23 of their last 25 district contests, including 14 in a row.

Despite the graduation of two-time all-state linebacker Brandon Smith, Coach Will Patrick’s team is primed for another big season this fall. Running back Jarett Hunter, the reigning District Offensive Player of the Year, returns for his senior season after amassing more than 1,500 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. Wide out Noah Robinson and running back Alex Washington gives Louisa playmakers on both sides of the ball, along with veteran performers such as Aaron Aponte, Derek Barbour and David Munoz.

The cupboard is certainly not bare for the Lions. Patrick is happy with the makeup of this team, including the addition of freshman Landon Wilson, and believes this team has what it takes to avenge last year’s last-second playoff loss to Eastern View.

Knocking at the door

Both Western Albemarle and Fluvanna County returned to glory last season with each earning Region 3C playoff berths. That excitement continued in the offseason as the two teams hope to build off last season’s success.

The Warriors should have the offensive firepower to compete with the top programs in the district this season. QB Carter Shifflett and running back Austin Shifflett form a potent 1-2 punch offensively for Western Albemarle. Jack Lesemann and Breaker Mendenhall are important threats on both sides of the ball.

Western Albemarle reached the regional semifinals last season and Coach Ed Redmond believes his team can continue to build on last year’s success.

Fluvanna County was one of the feel-good stories of 2018. Coach Mike Morris’ team won five of its first six games of the season to secure the program’s first playoff berth since 2000. QB Kobe Edmonds seized command of the offense and the Flucos utilized a bevy of running backs to keep opposing defenses off balance.

Despite some key losses to graduation, Morris’ team is eager to post back-to-back playoff berths. Walt Stribling, an East Carolina University commit anchors a strong offensive line and Morris believes the team has the star power to make another run.

Year of the running back

The 1,000-yard plateau is the measuring stick by which all good running backs are measured. Four 1,000-yard rushers return this season, including Orange County’s Jaylen Alexander, Louisa’s Hunter, Western Albemarle’s Austin Shifflett and Albemarle’s Mahki Robinson-Washington, which should bode well for offenses in Central Virginia.

Alexander is no stranger to the 1,000-yard club. He rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns last year and should be in the mix for the district’s top ground gainers.

Hunter is another electric playmaker with the ball in his hands at Louisa County. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first season as the go-to back in the offense. Boasting a strong combination of speed and power, the senior running back is tough to bring down.

Shifflett flourished in his first full season as the focal point of the Western Albemarle power running attack. As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,945 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.

The running back position was a big question mark for Albemarle heading into last fall. Robinson-Washington erased those concerns with his first 1,000-yard campaign. The rising senior is a powerful back that has sneaky speed in the open field.

Can Covenant repeat?

Seth Wilson credited the switch to 8-man football last season for saving the program at Covenant.

The switch served the Eagles’ program very well as Wilson’s team ran away with the inaugural VISFL 8-man football title.

Covenant isn’t ready to rest on its laurels and is primed for another strong run this season. Covenant returns 11 players from last year’s state championship team, including VISFL Defensive Player of the Year Nic Sanker. Jonas Sanker will make the move to quarterback and running backs Cole Finley and Jack Hoadley are also key contributors back to the fold.

New faces in new places

Powhatan has left the Jefferson District, which means another non-district opponent for each team.

Some schools have taken advantage of the extra game by beefing up their schedule with big-time opponents. Louisa County added Class 6 powerhouse Massaponax and consistent playoff performer Kettle Run.

Western Albemarle added a contest against perennial Valley District powerhouse Spotswood as part of its nondistrict slate and Fluvanna County has Battlefield District program Spotsylvania on its schedule.

Orange County, which has moved down to Class 4, faces reigning regional champion Eastern View in nondistrict action.

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