GW-Danville has had one of the most explosive and entertaining teams in the Piedmont District in recent years, winning the PD title and going 8-2 in the regular season last fall.
But the Eagles have fallen short when it comes to the Region 4D playoffs, one of the strongest divisions in the state. VHSL Class 4 is loaded, and GW is hoping this is the year it can get over that hump and make a run toward a state championship, like the basketball team was able to do back in March.
Head coach Nick Anderson spoke about what fans can expect from the Eagles this season, and how they are preparing to get over their playoff hurdles this time around.
Can we expect the same level of explosiveness out of the offense this season?
Anderson: We hope so. We’ve been very fortunate the past few seasons to have some really good athletes, and if we can get them a crease, they can always do something special for us. I think this year is going to be a lot of the same. I’m really excited about our offensive line and how well they’re playing this offseason, how well they’ve progressed. Hopefully with them playing well the athletes will be able to keep doing the same thing they’ve been doing and they have a lot more of those explosive plays.
What have you been working on with the defense to make sure they can complement your offense?
NA: We’ve got a lot of new faces over there. We’ve only got four returners coming back. We’ve got some young guys that have really been playing well. We’ve got a young linebacker core that has really gotten a lot better over this offseason during the summer and spring. They’re playing really good football right now, so hopefully they continue to progress at that linebacker position. I think the defensive line is going to be anchored down by Jaylen Williamson, who’s a returner, the only returner in our fronT. He got a lot of playing time last year. so he’s going to be the workhorse in the interior for us this year.
How do you go about making sure your special teams can come up with big plays when needed?
NA: I try to put guys who can make plays for us on those special teams. A lot of teams like to rest their starters on special teams. We hang our hat on pinning people deep with our kickoff coverage, but then also being able to turn around and get explosive plays in our return game.”
When you have a dynamic athlete like Shawn Watlington, a highly recruited senior drawing interest from N.C. State, Howard, William & Mary, among others, what is the balance like trying to get him the ball, but not force-feeding the ball to him?
NA: I think that over the past few seasons we’ve done well with that. We know that Shawn is an electric playmaker and when he gets the ball in his hands he can do special things, but at the same time you have to take what the defense gives you. We’re fortunate that we’ve got a number of other guys who can go out there and make plays, so if people are doubling Shawn or keying on him, there’s a number of other guys who can go out there and produce for us. But at the same time Shawn is Shawn. We’re going to find a way to get him the ball. Right now we’ve got him playing multiple positions, pretty much every skill position that we have he’s capable of playing it. He’s a very intelligent football player and his football I.Q. is extremely high. He’s one of those ones that’s fun to coach because you can do a lot of things with him and you get farther into the details of the game of football where at the high school level sometimes you just have to scratch the surface because the kids aren’t capable of comprehending it all, but his football I.Q. is extremely high. He’s one of those dudes, and we’re glad he’s on our side.
What kind of lessons do you try to take from playoff experiences in the past to get over that hump this season?
NA: It’s something we talk to them a lot in the offseason about being able to push through and finish off a season. During the season we kind of dial it back at looking too far ahead. I’ve always been kind of big of taking care of who we’ve got on Friday night and worrying about who we’ve got to play in the playoffs when the playoffs start. Right now we’re in the one game at a time mentality. I think if we can do that, the playoffs will take care of themselves. We just have to get good matchups.
Is there a sense of motivation from the basketball team’s state championship win with your players to try to do the same thing?
NA: I’ve got a number of athletes that play both football and basketball. I think it works best if you’ve got kids playing multiple sports. I’m not big on focusing on one sport training. You miss a lot of game-time decision and game-time pressure that you wouldn’t get if you weren’t playing another sport. As far as it transitioning, I think the hype is there; I think the excitement is there, but at the end of the day, it just comes down to if we can execute plays the way that we’re supposed to. I think we’ve got a very good team that can make a run. Looking at position by position, we’ve got weak links like every other team does, but these kids have been fighting hard this offseason and working extremely hard in the weight room, so we’ve just got to execute well and we’ll see what happens.