BRIDGEWATER — When Jared Peake was first approached about playing football this season, the Turner Ashby junior said him and his family had some reservations.
His relationship with Knights quarterback and receivers coach Andrew Armstrong, who also is the school’s baseball coach, was strong. But TA football had struggled recently, winning just two games in 2017 and 2018, and interest in the program was falling.
However, after continuous talks with fellow classmates and the Knights coaching staff, the Turner Ashby baseball standout changed his mind.
And when he first stepped onto the practice field behind TAHS to open training camp in August, he opened the eyes of his coaches immediately as he showed little trouble picking up the sport.
“The biggest surprise for us has been Jared Peake,” third-year TA coach Chris Fraser said. “With him coming out, he’s just made us so much better in a lot of areas with his athletic ability. Within the first week or so, we were looking at him like, ‘Oh my gosh. This kid is pretty good.’ He’s tough.”
Sitting at 2-0 for the first time since 2010 after a 48-26 win over non-district power Western Albemarle on Friday in Bridgewater, the Knights have been the beneficiaries of several new faces joining the program this season.
Peake’s fellow baseball standout Antonio Florentino-Sosa just joined the program a few weeks ago and is still getting up to speed with the TA playbook while receiver Nico Valle — a track and basketball standout for the Knights — returned to the gridiron this season.
“It’s been great,” Turner Ashby quarterback C.J. Haskins said. “With all of those guys coming in, they just contribute a lot. It makes it really easy for me to do my job. They do it so well that it just comes naturally for me.”
There’s no doubt Haskins, who is in his first season as the Knights starting signal-caller, has enjoyed the luxury of having so many new weapons this season.
Through two games, Haskins has 423 total yards and a team-high seven touchdowns.
“When they do their job and they do it so well, the defense has to respect them,” Haskins said. “Once they respect them, Grant [Swinehart] can start to gash them and then once he gets going, we can go right back to those guys. It’s a great 1-2 combo right there.”
Swinehart, a running back, was the focal point of the TA offense a year ago and is who opposing defenses centered their game plan around coming into this season.
After a strong couple of weeks to open up the season, however, Fraser said the Knights have the type of weapons he’s been seeking since his hiring at the school in 2017.
“This is the best situation I’ve had in a long time when it comes to having offensive weapons,” Fraser said. “We’ve got six kids that can all make plays for us. With all of these guys, it gives us a lot of options to work with.”
At 6-foot-3, Valle has provided the team a big receiver on the outside and has the type of athleticism needed to come down with jump balls that Haskins tosses his way.
In the win over the Warriors, he finished with six catches for 114 yards and a score.
“He’s like my safety valve, I guess,” Haskins said. “He’s my guy. He’s really athletic, really tall. You know when you throw him the ball, the odds are always in his favor to come down with it.”
The last time Valle played football, the Knights won just two games and averaged just 21.4 points per game while ending the season on a five-game losing streak.
Since his return, however, TA is off to a 2-0 start and averaging 36 points per contest.
“It’s kind of amazing considering we went 2-8 the past two years,” Valle said. “To be able to start off 2-0, it shows we’ve made a lot of improvements over the past year. It adds a lot to our offense. The past few seasons, we’ve mostly been built on running the football. Now we’re able to open it up and throw it. We’ve just got to continue to build on it.”
It isn’t just Peake and Valle that have provided the Knights a spark.
Sophomore Jalin Quintanilla has thrived in his first season on the varsity level with 93 rushing yards and a score and senior Brandon Onestak has added four receptions for 45 yards as one of the team’s most reliable receivers.
It’s brought the type of balance to the Turner Ashby offense that Fraser said he’s always wanted and he now has the weapons to successfully execute it on a consistent basis.
“We’ve had everything going right,” Peake said. “Our blocking on the offensive line, the play by the defensive line. Everybody is just doing their role. We know what we want to do, where we’re going. It’s a big advantage.”
Peake has been the most impressive of all the new faces as he has thrived as a do-it-all slot receiver for the Knights with 134 total yards this season.
“It’s nice for those guys to show the rest of the school, as well as themselves, that this team is worth it and we can do great things,” Haskins said. “It’s great for everyone to be rewarded for all of the hard work that we’ve put in.”
The TA veterans and the new faces all agree that back-to-back wins to start the season has injected new life into the program and renewed interest around the Bridgewater community.
And although Peake may have had his reservations at first, he said he’s thrilled to be part of what he called a turnaround for the Knights program.
“I’ve had a blast,” Peake said. “I’m glad to be part of it. Coming back and us starting strong and play so well as a team — it’s all been great.”