0805_dnr_FTB-BWY SPOT TA Football Practice_

Spotswood coach Dale Shifflett watches during the first day of Trailblazers' practice Monday in Penn Laird.

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

Which non-returning player (graduation or other reasons) will be most missed by his team?

--Leland M.

Any time that you lose a Division I football player in the Shenandoah Valley, it's going to have an impact and I think that's where we have to start when trying to answer this one.

Harrisonburg's Marcus Robinson-Jenkins, East Rockingham's J'wan Evans and Buffalo Gap's Carter Rivenburg — arguably the three best running backs in the area last year — have all moved on to the next level.

While Robinson-Jenkins is playing at Naval Academy Preparatory School this season, Rivenburg and Evans have both joined Virginia Tech's roster as preferred walk-ons.

There's no doubt how much of an impact the loss of Robinson-Jenkins will have on the Blue Streaks offense — we saw it last year when he missed the first five games with a fractured fibula — but as HHS coach Chris Thurman said last week, there is an array of intriguing options waiting for the opportunity to take over this season.

As for Evans and Rivenburg, there's no denying how vital both of them were to their team's success last season with each putting up video-game-like numbers in 2018.

It's hard to pick against Evans because of how explosive he was and his ability to change the game with one snap of the football, but I'm not quite sure he held as important of a role as Rivenburg did for a Bison team that didn't have much else.

Rivenburg was carrying the ball 35-40 times per game for Gap last season and while Evans would have certainly been capable of doing so, it wasn't needed because: 1. The Eagles blowing teams out and resting him and 2. ERHS had other options behind Evans that allowed him to take a breather on the sideline when needed.

Outside of Seth Fitzgerald, who played quarterback last season but rarely threw, Gap doesn't have a lot returning this season and will feel the loss of Rivenburg tremendously.

I also considered former Turner Ashby quarterback Trey Gillenwater, who transferred to Eastern Mennonite High School, and Staunton running back Garrett Lawler.


I was just wondering why JMU does not seem to offer scholarships to locals like they used to? I know they are a big program and the Shenandoah Valley has taken a hit in terms of prospects, but I've seen some good players and projects who can't seem to get a sniff.

--Marcus D.

It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly why there hasn't been as many locals playing at JMU in recent years, but one simple answer is the talent level hasn't been quite as high.

I spoke with Daily News-Record JMU football beat writer Greg Madia about this and that was the primary reasoning he had, paired with the fact that timing hasn't been ideal.

Sure, the area has had Division I talent such as the trio of running backs from the area last year and other players in previous season, but it isn't always the right fit.

A lot of recruiting is based off position needs and what specifically the team is searching for that season and often times, the talent in the Shenandoah Valley hasn't fit with that.

First-year JMU coach Curt Cignetti's staff had extended an offer to Harrisonburg's Marcus Robinson-Jenkins while still at Elon. But once Cignetti took the JMU job, the offer never came and Robinson-Jenkins ended up ultimately committing to Navy.

I know that JMU coaches have mentioned how important the local ties are in the past and I'm sure when the talent level eventually matches up, offers will follow.


What impact do you think East Rock's group of senior leaving will have with a strong junior class coming up and a good JV team?

--Cole P.

Donnie Coleman has made it clear that he's ready to move on from last year's success.

The 10th-year ERHS coach has praised last year's 20-person senior class as one of the best in program history and called them a "special group," but it's time for this season.

That means guys like Trenton Morris, Colton Dean, Tyce McNair and Jamarcus Davis, Jaeden Rouse, Lane Comer, Joe Carrickhoff and others are stepping up.

Look, there's no doubt losing a class as talented as last year's bunch is tough for any team to try to replace, but the Eagles have enough key pieces to still contend.

This isn't a situation where East Rock is going to completely fall to the basement of the Bull Run District standings and put a bunch of new faces on the field this year.

The Eagles have a solid core of returners, as mentioned above, and Coleman has been upbeat about the prospects of the players coming up to him from the JV team.

While it's easy to keep reflecting on how much last year's group of seniors met to the team, both Coleman and the players have made it clear that East Rock will be just fine.


How will the old Shenandoah District teams fare in the Bull Run?

--Leland M.

The loss of Central is tough for the Bull Run District in football, but it's adding three quality teams in East Rockingham, Luray and Page County.

Stonewall Jackson is in rebuilding mode, but the other three teams coming over from the Shenandoah have all been mentioned by coaches as possible contenders this year.

When you look at what's returning in the Bull Run, Strasburg and Clarke County look like the two strongest teams while Madison County and Rappahannock County may struggle.

The Eagles and Bulldogs were both two of the stronger teams in the Shenandoah a year ago, are very well-coached and bring back enough talent to contend this season.

Page County is also a sneaky team with an array of talent returning to a team that made progress last season after over a decade of dismal play in the Shenandoah.

It's hard to pinpoint a favorite at this point in the season because each team has certain questions it needs to answer before the year begins, but at least three of the teams coming over from the Shenandoah should find themselves in contention.


Who would you take as the top Augusta County football team and top Rockingham County football team to play each other? Who do you think would win that game?

--Cody S.

We actually had this matchup happen last year when East Rockingham defeated Riverheads 28-0 for its first win over the Gladiators in program history.

ERHS went on to make a run to the Virginia High School League Class 2 semifinals, where it fell to Goochland, while Riverheads won its third straight Class 1 championship.

This season, the trendy preseason pick for the best team in Rockingham County is actually the Eagles' nearby rival Spotswood, which has 20 seniors on its roster.

The Trailblazers are a team loaded with depth, experience and talent this season and looking to build off its first Valley District championship since 2013.

As for Augusta County, there are a lot of teams rebuilding this year and the Gladiators could be one of them. But one thing I've learned while covering Riverheads for seven years is to never pick against them in these types of situations.

As far as who would win between the Gladiators and Spotswood, it's an interesting matchup with two very different styles.

The Trailblazers are bigger than a lot of the teams Riverheads will see throughout the regular season and may be able to use that size to slow down the Gladiators' vaunted rushing attack.

Spotswood quarterback Ryan High is also arguably the best in the area and could open up enough things offensively to get some big-play opportunities against the RHS defense.

Both of these teams could be primed for deep postseason runs and they won't face each other at all. But if they ever did get the chance, my prediction would be:

Spotswood 28, Riverheads 14.

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