Coaches like to say size and experience cannot be taught. For the first time in his tenure, fourth-year Warhill football coach Thad Wheeler will benefit from at least one of those traits this season.
The Lions' seniors are the first group to go the full four years with Wheeler.
The veteran presence makes a difference when preseason camp starts as it did for Warhill, Lafayette and Bruton last week. Jamestown was the last local high school to start fall football practice, on Monday.
"It's been a building process," Wheeler said, "and it will continue to be. But we're definitely light years ahead of where we started three years ago."
Warhill won four games in each of the last two seasons, reaching the Group 3A state playoffs in each season including last year when the Lions were eliminated in the first round by eventual state semifinalist Phoebus. The most intriguing defeat of the season for the Lions, though, was a 48-36 shootout with a strong Smithfield team that lost only to Lafayette in Bay Rivers District regular season action. Warhill rallied to within a touchdown of the Packers with a minute to play before falling.
The Lions recorded wins over Churchland, York, Jamestown and Bruton.
The challenge will mount this season for Warhill as it climbs into the 4A ranks with Williamsburg-James City County neighbors Jamestown and Lafayette.
The Lions have not been particularly big up front but drew praise from their coach last season for a blue-collared work ethic that starts with their offensive line.
Good news for Warhill: almost all of the senior-laden offensive line is back, led by guard Bryant Walker, who earned 3A East Region honorable mention recognition last season when two-way standout Bryce Koob rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Walker also played in the linebacker corps with Koob and will lead the middle of that unit this season with Jack Wright.
Elijah Paige, Josh Farley, Anthony Davis and Alex Minter (tight end) will join Walker and Wright in the trenches.
Walker said the competition up front has been fierce and carried over from last season. The backs they will block for this season include Rodney Hudson, who had a breakout campaign last season on offense and at cornerback, and Armond Fannin. Each player earned all-region distinction a year ago.
"Every day the linemen in general have just been going at it the past year," Walker said. "These guys have been working hard in the preseason and the offseason. And now they're ready to rock and roll. They're excited."
"Just off these three first days of practice, definitely more energetic than last year was," Hudson said. "I know our seniors are ready for the season. Just looking to have fun."
Hudson and junior Jalen Fowler will combine on the defensive edges and Fowler will also factor in at running back.
Senior Jamin Hazelaar has taken over the starting quarterback duties from Ryan Creecy, who graduated.
Wheeler said Warhill can compete with any team on its schedule if it focuses on fundamentals and execution and Walker believes the Lions make up for a lack of size up front with resolve and tenacity.
"We're going to work as hard as we can until the last whistle blows," Walker said. "I feel like that's a mindset now for us. We're not going to be outworked. We're not going to be beaten, repeatedly. We're not going to let you stomp us and keep us down."
Warhill's first scrimmage is Aug. 10 at home against Chancellor before the Lions continue preseason in an exhibition at Gloucester the following week.
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.