Progress is a keyword within Winters Mill’s football program.
The Falcons won one game in 2013, when Matt Miller took over as coach. Back then, most of the buzz generated by the players during the preseason came from getting new uniforms.
Things have changed in recent years.
Winters Mill won three games in 2016, then finished 5-5 last fall and contended for a Class 2A West Region playoff spot before ending the season on a three-game skid.
This year’s squad wants to keep things going in a positive direction.
“Each year we’ve improved,” Miller said during a break in practice earlier this week. “You always stand on the shoulders of the people who came before. Last year’s group of kids [was] a great group of kids also, who replaced a great group of kids. So I’m hoping we can keep pushing it up.”
Miller said Winters Mill will rely on its 13 seniors to lead the way — the Falcons have 32 players on their roster for 2018.
WM’s pro set offense has experience. Quarterback Alex Barnes (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) is back for his senior year after putting together a 1,000-yard passing effort in 2017. Barnes completed 52 percent of his passes and tossed eight touchdowns.
The Falcons graduated their top offensive threat, however, in Times first-team all-county pick Troy Blessing (785 offensive yards, 11 touchdowns). They also lost running back Glen Acha (508 rushing yards) and wideout Casey Rowe (304 receiving yards) to graduation.
Miller said having a three-year starter under center in Barnes is a big plus, though, and he has seen improved commitment in the weight room from a few of his linemen.
Seniors Brad Cole (5-9, 235) and Dylan Steinwedel (6-5, 240) should anchor the offensive line.
Barnes and Steinwedel are the lone returning starters on offense, but Miller said he expects new faces to emerge as regulars.
Senior Nico Vagnier (5-10, 165) should see time at running back along with juniors Garrison Cashman and Alex Carr. Barnes’ receiving targets include senior Austin Plummer (5-9, 160), junior Cayden Beard (6-1, 170), and sophomores Anthony Cegielski (6-2, 180) and Cam Vogel (6-2, 170).
Miller said it’s a “luxury” having Barnes as a team leader with so much experience, and the senior seemed excited earlier this week in preparing for Friday’s season opener against Joppatowne.
“We’ve got some young guys up that we didn’t have last year, and I feel like our team chemistry is a little better than it was last year,” Barnes said. “We’ve got some big, strong kids up front, which is exciting. We may be able to run the ball a little bit better.”
Look for Barnes to use his legs when he can to move the ball, something he didn’t as much a year ago.
“We’re going to be a really multi-faceted offense this year,” Barnes said. “Gets me pumped up.”
On defense, the Falcons bring back five starters — Cole on the D-line, Carr at defensive back, senior DBs Austin Plummer and Kaden Ross, and Vagnier at linebacker — to operate in a 4-4 scheme.
Vagnier led Winters Mill in tackles last season with 75 and added seven sacks. Plummer hauled in six interceptions in 2017 to go with four passes defensed.
Winters Mill’s defense allowed 25.1 points per game last season, but gave up 196 points to county and went 2-4 in Carroll play.
Depth could be a concern this fall. Miller said he wants as many “one-and-a-half way players” as possible to keep everyone fresh. Getting off to another solid start is also a goal — the Falcons were 2-0, then 5-2, in 2017.
“I want to keep getting better,” said Miller, “but I am pleased at this point.”
Added Barnes: “Our motto this year is ‘Finish,’ and Coach made that really clear going into camp. Last year that didn’t necessarily happen. I feel like finishing will be a thing we do this year.”