DINWIDDIE — A resounding “no” is the answer Dinwiddie Football head coach Billy Mills II gives to the question of whether his expectations for the 2018 version of Generals Football is different given some of the players they lost off of last year’s squad.
“Our expectations are the same every year,” Mills said. “If we want to have the football program which we always aspire to have, we can’t lower our expectations just because we graduated a few guys.”
The Generals last season were undefeated prior to their lost to Louisa 38-27 in the region final in November, denying them a chance to return to states.
On paper, the Generals have lost several talent standouts from that venerable 2017 squad, most notably K’vaughan Pope, the two-way standout who now plays at Ohio State. The Generals also lost all-state wide receiver Jasiah Williams, who transfered to Thomas Dale, running back and Progress-Index Regular Season Football Athlete of the Year Zyan Sturdivant, all-state defensive players Cody Mills and Joseph Tyree and all-state kicker Todd Anspach.
But Mills leads a program whose mantra is “Tradition Never Graduates,” and he's confident that his returners will not only lead the Generals back to the top of the region, but give them another shot at the state title.
Returning all-state quarterback Ky’mon Pope will look to lead the new-look Generals, who will turn to several new faces to step in and keep Dinwiddie in powerhouse status.
“Our guys have been working hard; we’ve got some new guys stepping into roles and we’re still searching for a few," Mills said, "but I feel good about where we're headed."
On offense, Mills will rely heavily on Pope to lead the way. In his first year as a starter, Pope rushed for 1,043 yards and 16 touchdowns, with four games where he rushed for over 100 yards. In the air, Pope completed 119 passes on 211 attempts for 1,949 yards.
Pope’s big game ability was apparent in several games last year, most notably in the matchup against eventual state champion Salem, where he accounted for over 400 yards of total offense.
“A lot of big games last year, he kind of took over,” Mills said. “He always stepped up in the biggest games we had. We’re expecting that same production out of him.”
“This offseason has been pretty good,” Pope said. “We’ve gotten after it every day, and we’ve really improved at each position, especially our offensive line. Even with all the guys leaving, we’ve got guys coming back and guys who have stepped up.”
Mills is also expecting a loaded wide receiver corps to give Pope options in the passing game. Trey Reese and Desmond Green are two of those receivers. Newcomer Cedric Drumgoole, a sophomore, is another young player Mills is hoping can be a weapon for Pope to throw to.
“We have eight guys who we consider starters because we play so fast,” Mills said. “Those kids will rotate in.”
“[The receivers] will be a heavy weapon this year,” Reese said. “We got a lot of new guys who have stepped up - I’ve also been working hard myself - and we’re going to come out and do what we need to do to win the game.”
For the running game - which often punished defenses last year when led by Sturdivant and Pope - Mills will turn to Cirdale Luccess to pick up yards on the ground. Luccess, who qualified for the Junior Olympics in Track and Field, was described by Mills as “probably our fastest kid.”
The six-foot, 210 pound Tyre’ Dalton, a “bruiser” as Mills described him, should also get some reps at RB position.
“We’ve got that blend of speed and strength at the running back position with those two guys,” Mills said. “Zyan was the total package; he had size and speed, so [Luccess and Dalton] will kind of do that by committee.”
The running game will be aided by an offensive line filled with three players all taller than six feet and and weighing more than 250 pounds each. Jacob Edwards, D’Anta Johnson and Kenneth Grandison will be clearing lanes for Luccess and Dalton and protecting quarterback Pope. Dean Baugus will also be a big part of the line.
Grandison, who Mills said has “one of the best feeds I’ve ever coached” will be anchoring the line at the center position. Grannison was Second Team All-Region last year.
“I love our offensive line,” Mills said. “It’s no doubt one of the strongest lines we’ve ever had. When you have a line with that kind of experience and that kind of strength, and you’ve got your star quarterback coming back, you feel better about things.”
“We have three offensive lineman coming back, so blocking wise, we’re good,” Edwards said, adding that they've "got a couple of running backs that can get it done.”
Mills expects linebacker Jordan Bracey, a three-year starter, to be a strong point of the defense.
“He’s a veteran at that position,” Mills said. “He’s helping the younger guys. He’s doing what a leader does, which is to help bring the people around him to another level.”
The Generals will feature some new faces at outside linebacker, where Roudie Small, Shayne Parham and Kawan Lewis will compete for those positions.
Several players will be playing both sides of the ball. Pope, in addition to his quarterbacking duties, will spend time at defensive back, where Mills said he expects his stock to “blow up.”
“You’ll definitely see him more defensively this year,” Mills said.
The defensive line will also feature many of the same players on the offensive line, including Edwards and Johnson.
“[Johnson] runs like a defensive end, but he’s 6’2 and 270,” Mills said. “He’s strong.”
“We got a lot of speed," Johnson said. "We just got to make sure we use it."
Joey Meadows will be used at nose tackle.
“One of the big things will be building depth on both sides of the line,” Mills said. “We’ve got to stay healthy.”
Sophomore Justin Davis is expected to step up in the absence of all-state kicker Todd Anspach. Davis played for the Generals’ JV team last year.
“He’s young, but he’s going to be really good,” Mills said. “He’s already really solid on his field goals and extra points. He’s young, so he’s not kicking them out of the end zone yet, but he’ll do a solid job for us.”
The Generals will open their season on Thursday, Aug. 23 when they travel to Newport News to take on Denbeigh. One of the big games on the schedule is a rematch with Salem at home on Sept. 7. Dinwiddie beat the three-time defending state champions last year in the regular season.
Another big clash on the schedule will be their matchup with Central District rival Thomas Dale on Friday, Sept. 28.
John Adam may be reached at email@example.com or 804-722-5172.