Tabb High football coaches began summer practice with the luxury of experience in numerous spots.
On offense, there's rapidly improving quarterback Dan Schiele, a college prospect in tight end Joe Nelson and athleticism in running backs Andrew Junio, Harley Page and Jake Brown. Linebackers Nelson and Brown, and defensive backs Junio and Page, all are defensive veterans.
The major question for a program looking to rebound from its first losing season in five years is whether the inexperienced lines would be able to hold their own. The Tigers return only one starting interior lineman as they open the season against James Monroe on Monday at Bailey Field, but the attitude and growth of the newcomers is turning concern into optimism.
"I didn't expect a whole lot out of the group initially," said offensive line coach Lucas Brown. "But when they got here (for practice Aug. 1), I saw how hard they had worked and their willingness to work hard to learn."
James Everhart, a 6-foot-1, 269-pound senior, might be the poster boy for the work ethic that has transformed the Tabb line into a group head coach Matt Lawson calls a "pleasant surprise." Admittedly contact shy as a junior, Everhart spent time since last football season wrestling and playing rugby to acquire a taste for hitting.
"The wrestling got me in better shape," he said. "And after you've played rugby it's a lot easier to come back and play in pads."
Senior Scott Merrifield, the only returning lineman, spent part of his summer working out with former Tabb lineman Aaron Macfarlane while he prepared to play in college at Southern Virginia. They were joined on occasion by junior Xavier Baird, a guy Everhart jokes has "read the playbook a thousand times" to prepare for the season.
Everhart, Merrifield and Baird, are joined on the offensive line by Drew Camarena and Austin Zimmerman, juniors who started on the junior varsity last year. Brown said that Zimmerman, though undersized (5-8, 166 pounds), gets after opponents hard, and that Camarena's technique and knowledge equals that of the Tabb seniors.
Depth is a concern, because Everhart, Baird and Merrifield are the starting linemen in the Tigers' 3-4 defense. But the two-way guys like playing for intense defensive line coach Gary Hamilton, and the Tigers are putting added emphasis on conditioning to ensure they produce late in games.
The early returns on the line's progress have been good. Merrifield said he was surprised how well the group played in its first scrimmage, considering the inexperience.
Everhart said a play early in that scrimmage, against Denbigh, provided momentum the line will carry onto the field against James Monroe.
"It was a nice reception by Joe (Nelson) for a long gain on nice pass from Schiele," he said. "The line was blocking good, and it all just seemed to come together from the practices and two-a-days.
"That boosted our confidence a lot."
The linemen have, in turn, boosted the confidence of a coaching staff not quite sure how things would look in the trenches prior to Aug. 1.
"I think they've been trying to show they belong, in spite of their inexperience," Brown said.
Lawson said, "They're getting to the right spots at the right time. They just have to finish their blocks with a little more speed and intensity."
Bay Rivers District Football Schedule for Monday
James Monroe vs Tabb at Bailey Field, 7 p.m.
Park View-South Hill vs. Warhill at Wanner Stadium, 7 p.m.
Bruton at Greensville County, 7:30 p.m.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun