Injuries all but sank Winters Mill before its 2018 football season got started.
But Falcons coach Matt Miller isn’t hiding behind it, not with the majority of those players who were promoted from junior varsity last fall, when WM struggled to a 2-8 record, coming into this season with vital experience.
“I know every team deals with injuries, so whatever you want to say, whether you want to call it an excuse or if it’s a reason,” Miller said. “We brought eight sophomores up to varsity last year out of necessity. It’s a shame we had to do that … but the byproduct of it was, we get a lot of kids back with varsity snaps. It’s tough to practice that until you have experience doing it, and the kids we have back have done it.”
Winters Mill went backward in 2018, after winning five games in 2017. The Falcons also graduated quarterback Alex Barnes, a Times first-team all-county pick last fall who threw for 1,051 yards and ran for 801 more. Barnes scored 10 touchdowns and shared the county lead in scoring.
Miller said Winters Mill is turning to senior Matheo Cuenca (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) as Barnes’ replacement, and the Falcons’ offense makes a move from a Pro set formation to more single-back schemes.
Garrison Cashman (5-11, 210) should be WM’s feature back after he collected 224 rushing yards last season. Fellow senior Alex Carr also expects to get carries, and he’s one of seven backs listed on Winters Mill’s roster.
“The fortunate part is, we have more depth at running back than we did last year,” Miller said. “We have other people we can rely on to run the ball, and I think we have some receivers that can catch it.”
Juniors Anthony Cegielski (6-2, 190) and Cam Vogel (6-2, 185) join senior Cayden Beard (6-2, 185) as WM’s receiving corps, and the trio of Falcons enjoy a good size advantage. Beard led Winters Mill last season with 22 receptions and 268 yards, while Cegielski added 19 catches for 253 yards.
Wayne Poole (5-9, 175), a senior, also returns at wideout.
Senior Spencer Patterson (5-10, 270) should help anchor Winters Mill’s offensive line. Plus, the Falcons have sophomore lineman Noah Wagner listed at 6-4, 280. Wagner is one of three sophomores on the roster.
“It’s very important to have some key players in leadership positions,” Cashman said. “That’s always good.”
Winters Mill’s defense allowed 36.6 points per game last fall — 246 against Carroll County Athletic League competition — so tightening that unit is crucial for the Falcons if they want to improve.
Cegielski, Cashman, and Beard are among WM’s top linebackers. Cegielski had 50.5 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2018, and Beard added 3.5 sacks.
Carr and Poole should man the defensive backfield (Cuenca is listed at DB as well), with Patterson along the D-line.
“We’re a tough, gritty team,” Cashman said. “I want to make other teams afraid. I want to be a very tough team, mentally and physically.”
Miller pointed to 10 returning starters as the key to Winters Mill’s success, and the first test comes Sept. 6 at home against Fallston. The Cougars were winless in 2018.
The Falcons’ first CCAL matchup is Sept. 20 on the road against Francis Scott Key.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Cashman said. “I really like the attitude of the team.”
Miller and his staff likely enjoys hearing players express that sort of optimism heading into a new season.
“I brag all the time. What we do to prepare our kids and how we organize, I’ll put up against anybody,” Miller said. “I know the wins haven’t been there, but it’s what a football program should look like. I really, truly believe that.”