0805_dnr_FTB-BWY SPOT TA Football Practice_

Spotswood's Ethan Barnhart during the first day of Trailblazers' practice Monday in Penn Laird.

Here's the third of my weekly prep football mailbag this preseason. You can submit questions to celliott@dnronline.com, on Twitter or Facebook.

What will it take for someone to dethrone Spotswood in the Valley District?

--Joe T.

After winning its first Valley District title since 2013 a year ago, Spotswood has established itself as the favorite to repeat as district champions.

The Trailblazers bring back a majority of their roster from a year ago and have a city/county-high 20 seniors this season, meaning experience won't be an issue.

Right now, it's hard to see anyone else in the Valley District taking down Spotswood with how many veterans it has and based off a pure talent evaluation.

However, if it were to happen, I think you have to look at Harrisonburg and Rockbridge County as the teams that would have the best chance at doing so.

The Blue Streaks have established a rivalry with the Trailblazers over the past few seasons with their matchup determining the district champion the last two years.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, have been an up-and-coming team and after making the playoffs each of the past two seasons, they may be ready to take that next step to competing for a district championship.

As for what it will take, I think it would take a poor defensive effort from Spotswood — which is something we didn't see much of last year — and some sloppy play offensively.

The Trailblazers are built to play in low-scoring, physical games with their stout defense and the ability to run the ball effectively, but a shootout may play to the opponent's favor.

Both Harrisonburg and Rockbridge run high-flying, speedy offenses that could benefit from playing in a game like that and have a much likelier chance of pulling off the upset.

Whether or not anyone is able to do that this season is to be seen, but if I had to say how I think it could happen, I think a high-scoring affair is the only way Spotswood is topped.


Here's a hypothetical for you: During the coin flip, East Rockingham and Spotswood switch quarterbacks? Who has the better game? Tyce McNair or Ryan High?

--Leland M.

Oh, I'm a big fan of hypotheticals and this is a fun one.

I've made it clear that Spotswood's Ryan High is arguably the best quarterback in the area this season, but that doesn't mean Tyce McNair isn't an intriguing option for East Rockingham.

While High has the better arm and the experience of being the starter last year to back him up, McNair's running ability will make him a strong dual-threat option for the Eagles.

What the teams do offensively is a bit different with East Rockingham spreading it out a bit more while the Trailblazers don't mind getting under center and running it down the opposing defense's throat.

For the purpose of this question, I think you'd have to give the edge here to High.

While McNair would certainly benefit in a SHS offense that focuses on the run at times and would use his dual-threat abilities as well — Trailblazers coach Dale Shifflett has even mentioned using High more as a runner — High would have a field day in Elkton.

Letting High, who stands at 6-foot-3 and has a cannon for an arm, stand back in the shotgun and operate out of the spread is terrifying for opposing secondaries.

Both of the quarterbacks are primed for big years and they both are in offenses that fit their skillset best. But if this hypothetical ever came true, I'd go with High.


Last year saw a lot of Division I talent leave with [Harrisonburg's Marcus] Robinson-Jenkins, [East Rockingham's] J'wan Evans, [Buffalo Gap's Carter] Rivenburg and others graduating. Which players this season have the most college potential?

--Greg W.

At first glance, I'm not sure there's quite as many big-time college prospects on the area football scene this year, but that certainly could change as the year goes along.

One of the most intriguing names is Turner Ashby running back Grant Swinehart.

Swinehart was having a tremendous season a year ago before suffering a toe injury that forced him to miss the final three games of the season.

Since the end of last year, however, Swinehart has spent time visiting Division I programs Air Force, Virginia Military Institute and others while preparing for this season.

He enters 2019 as arguably the Valley District's best running back.

Other names that could garner some Division I interest are Harrisonburg kicker Mateo Peric and HHS freshman lineman Joel Alvado, Spotswood's Ryan High, Rob Smith and Colby Morris and Broadway's Brent Hulse.


Which city/county team is primed for the longest postseason run?

--Jason D.

It will surprise no one that my answer for this question is Spotswood.

Look, I know preseason hype is a coach's least-favorite challenge to deal with, but the Trailblazers check of all the boxes for a team primed for a deep postseason run.

Spotswood got a taste of winning last year when it captured its first Valley District championship since 2013, but are motivated by its season-ending upset to Liberty-Bedford in the opening round of the Region 3C playoffs.

The Trailblazers feature a stout defense, the best quarterback in the area and a running game that will allow them to control possession and work the clock successfully.

There are other teams that I could see making noise such as East Rockingham, Riverheads, Clarke County, Strasburg and Luray in Class 1 and Class 2.

But in 2019, Spotswood looks ready for a special run throughout the postseason.


With Broadway's new coach, how much will change? Will this spark a better record?

--Leland M.

It's the question everyone is wondering and the town of Broadway is awaiting the answer to.

Danny Grogg has injected a whole new sense of energy and pride within the Gobblers football program that is evident within seconds of showing up at a practice session.

What will change on the field, however, is to be seen.

Grogg has stated that he won't change a ton defensively in terms of scheme, but will look to improve a unit that hasn't particularly played well during their recent struggles.

The first-year head coach has even made it a priority by assigning himself as the team's defensive coordinator and has worked closely with the team's defensive line this preseason.

As far as offense, it's inevitable that Broadway will remain a gritty, physical team.

But one thing Grogg has made sure to note is that they won't stick to just one plan of success by simply running the ball or airing it out every single play.

In fact, Grogg said the team will be much more balanced and will keep things simple.

It will take time for Grogg to build the program he wants at BHS, but there's no doubt he's brought the juice early on and has the community excited for what's to come this season.

Whether that will be an improvement off the four-win campaign a year ago is questionable, but I think eventually, the Gobblers will get back into the Valley District's upper echelon.


Who do you predict as the winners in each district (Valley, Bull Run and Shenandoah)?

--Rick L.

I've elaborated on most of these teams already so I'll keep it short here and give you my picks to win each district and a couple of dark horses to keep in mind.

Valley District

Winner: Spotswood

Dark Horses: Harrisonburg, Rockbridge County

Bull Run District

Winner: East Rockingham

Dark Horses: Strasburg, Clarke County, Luray

Shenandoah District

Winner: Riverheads

Dark Horses: Stuarts Draft, Fort Defiance

Contact Cody Elliott at 574-6284 or celliott@dnronline.com | Follow Cody on Twitter: @Cody_DNRSports

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