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First Down: Briar Woods Falcons

With training camp underway, we're all anxious to see which teams could contend for district titles and who might surprise some teams in the upcoming season. Over the next few weeks I'll be previewing each of the Dulles District teams with a feature I'm calling "First Down." I'll just do some quick hits with stats and key losses and returning players and tell you what I'll be watching in each team's training camp.

Feel free to contribute any inside information, share notes about up-and-comers from the junior varsity squad or tell my I'm crazy for thinking a certain player is in the running for one starting job or another. As the coaches let on at media day, there are lots of unknowns heading into camp. So feel free to speculate, ruminate and debate any and all football topics here at the Extra Points blog.

Next up, the Briar Woods Falcons...

Coach: Charlie Pierce, fifth year (fourth varsity season)
Last Year: 8-3 (5-2 Dulles District)

The Falcons made their playoff debut in 2007, just their second varsity season, and repeated the feat last fall, reaching the Region II Division 3 playoffs and falling to defending state champions Monticello. Led by dominating offensive and defensive lines, Briar Woods propelled themselves to a third place finish in the Dulles District with a relentless rushing attack and a stingy defense. But no team in the district was hit harder by last spring's graduation than the Falcons, who lost the bulk of their offense and defense. The boys from Brambleton will also face a tougher road if they hope to get back to the postseason. Due to shrinking enrollment numbers at Liberty and Fauquier, they've moved up to Division 4, where they'll be forced to compete with the likes of Broad Run, James Wood and Loudoun County for a spot in the playoffs.
Offensively, they'll need to vary their attack and that means added pressure on senior signal-caller Austin Frattali. His development could be the key to the season for this group. On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons are smaller and will be forced to use quickness, athleticism and gang-tackling to pursue opposing tailbacks and rush the quarterback. Defense has always been the key for the Falcons and they'll look to lean on that unit again this fall. There are plenty of personnel issues to be decided in the coming weeks but Charlie Pierce has a committed group of players who don't want their playoff streak to end anytime soon. Will they be resigned to rebuilding in 2009? Or can they make it three straight trips to the playoffs?

Returning Starters: 3
Overall: 25.5 points per game
Passing: 79-147, 876 yds, 9 TDs
Rushing: 445 carries, 2,232 yds, 24 TDs
Kicking: 3 FGs, 24 XPs

Key Losses
RB Ray Taliaferro, OT Aaron Kakol, QB Edwin Mends (transfer), WR Jeremy Gray, OG Michael Girolami, RB Matt Eisenman, WR Brett Lefebvre

Key Returners
FB Billy McDonald (Sr) - 60 carries, 248 yds, 6 TDs
McDonald had his signature moment in the 2008 season opener when he almost single-handedly drove the Falcons 95 yards on 16 plays for a touchdown that put the game out of reach. at 5-11, 250 pounds, McDonald looks more like a nose tackle than a fullback, but his up-the-gut running style is perfectly suited for third down conversions and goal line plunges. With just a 4.1 yards per carry clip last season, he's not going to beat you with speed on the outside and can't shoulder the load in the backfield alone. But he will see quite a few more carries as the lone experienced back returning this season and should find pay-dirt often.

QB Austin Frattali (Sr) - 51-91, 544 yds, 5 TDs, 5 INTs; 31 carries, 4 yds, 2 Point Conv. (7 games)
Frattali was up and down in his first seven games as the Falcons' starter before his season was cut short. Freshman Edwin Mends took over and performed well but transferred to a private school this summer, leaving the door open for Frattali to regain his role as the starter. The senior has a strong arm - as evidenced by his pitching performances on the baseball diamond this spring - but he has yet to prove himself at the varsity level. The Falcons were a run first, run second team a year ago but with the loss of most of their offensive line and top running backs, they may look to open things up in the passing game a bit more this fall. The biggest question with Frattali is his ability to lead and that's something Pierce has been impressing upon his signal-caller all offseason. If he can come into his own and display the poise, confidence and leadership necessary to succeed at the position, Frattali could have a strong senior campaign.

PK David Clements (So) - 3 FGs, 24 XP
As a rare freshman starting kicker last season, Clements performed reasonably well. He doesn't possess a huge leg and wasn't called upon for many field goal attempts but did put home three, including a long of 33 yards. Clements connected on 24-of-38 extra points and will need to improve that ratio this year. The Falcons are committed to this youngster and that should bode well for his development and improved accuracy and leg strength in his second varsity season under special teams coach and former Virginia Tech kicker Jared Develli.

Position Battles to Watch
Offensive Line - With graduation decimating this unit, the Falcons will look to some fresh faces to fortify their line and propel their running game. Seniors Allan Jackson and Attilla Aliriza should man the interior while seniors Omar Omokhodion (LT) and David Woodall (RT) fill out the group. All four have good size without being the behemoths that Caldwell and Kakol were. Senior Tavis Henry, a converted running back, will handle snapping duties at center and also serve as the team's long-snapper.

Wide Receiver - Briar Woods returns all of 11 catches and 82 yards from last season's receiving totals. That's it. Jeremy Gray (22-224), Jake Ashton (8-209), Jeff Simmons (11-125), Matt Eisenman (7-74), Ray Taliaferro (5-69), Brett Lefebvre (8-64) and Andrew Davidson (2-23) are all gone. The Falcons' top returning wideout is junior Kyle Haufler and his three catches for 53 yards. That means there are plenty of openings for playmakers to step up and earn a starting role. Haufler, senior Gavin Scherer, Alden Carpenter and John Jonason are all in the mix and Scott Rolen (a transfer from Texas who does not play third base for the Cincinnati Reds) sounds like a possible starter. It'll be interesting to see who separates himself from the group and even more intriguing to see if whoever that is gets more than 22 catches - the total for leading receiver Jeremy Gray a year ago.

Returning Starters: 2
Overall: 15.7 points allowed per game
Passing: 94-219, 1,157 yds, 13 TDs
Rushing: 321 carries, 1,012, 8 TDs

Can a smaller defensive line stuff the run as effectively as the Falcons did in 2008?. (Tracy A. Woodward, TWP)

Key Losses
DE Austin DeMoss, LB Jake Ashton, DT Jamie Caldwell, DL Aaron Kakol, DL Michael Girolami, LB J.T. Bailey, LB Andrew Davidson, DB Ray Taliaferro

Key Returners
LBs Allan Jackson (Sr), Attilla Aliriza (Sr)
Jackson and Aliriza are two of a very few who played a significant role on last year's stout defensive unit and remain in Brambleton. They'll be called upon to patrol the middle of the field while also shifting and coming forward to generate a pass rush. With less body mass on the defensive line, the linebackers will need to step up into an expanded role this season.

Position Battles to Watch
Everywhere - The Falcons had one of the toughest defensive fronts around in 2008, allowing opposing rushers a meager 3.2 yards per carry and only conceded eight touchdowns on the ground. They held six opponents under 10 points and and only allowed four teams to crack 100 yards rushing. Unfortunately for the Briar Woods faithful, they lost nearly that entire unit. For the Falcons to even come close to last year's numbers, they'll need to rely on the speed and athleticism of their smaller defensive ends and linebackers as well as support from the defensive backs to apply pressure up front without exposing a weakness down the field. Many of those positions still need to be solidified, which means there will be plenty of work on the defensive side of the ball during summer two-a-days.

8/28 - vs. Millbrook
9/4 - @ Liberty
9/12 - @ Handley
9/17 - vs. Martinsburg (W.Va.)
9/25 - vs. Freedom
10/2 - @ Broad Run
10/9 - vs. Loudoun County
10/16 - @ Potomac Falls
10/23 - @ Park View
11/6 - vs. Dominion

Odds and Ends
- The Falcons had one of the biggest lines around last season but many of those bodies - Kakol, Girolami, Caldwell, DeMoss, etc. - are gone now. Their replacements don't have the same size or experience but they might have an edge in the quickness department, which is something Pierce plans to utilize with this year's crop of linemen. Look for the guys up front to stand up more often rather than dropping into a stance. Pierce hopes this will enable his 220-240-pound defensive ends to explode off the ball and gang tackle.

- A quick glance at the schedule above reveals seven playoff teams from 2008. That means tough-sledding for a team looking to replace numerous all-district selections. It could be trial by fire for some of the youngsters in the early going against tough non-district opponents, but that experience could provide immediate dividends when Dulles District play begins. If there's one break in the schedule it could be the team's bye week being so late (Oct. 30th). That should give the Falcons' starters time to rest up for senior night against Dominion.

- With Develli bringing his Beamer Ball pedigree to Brambleton, the Falcons will bring a renewed focus to their special teams efforts this season. Pierce has set aside ample practice time to work on kick and punt return and punt block schemes and Develli has tapped certain players with the necessary skills to make up those units. With so many personnel losses from last season's squad, extra return yards here and there or a blocked kick could be the difference in a couple of Briar Woods' games this fall.

Coach's Corner
- "We're looking do use a lot more pressure, a lot more stunting to take advantage of our stand up guys. Our nose and defensive ends, they're not going to be as big as they have been in the past - they're going to be in the 225-240 pound range - and we're going to be moving them a lot and pressuring with different linebackers going in different directions. So that's how we're going to try to take advantage of their quickness and try to get as many guys to the ball as possible and gang tackling."

- "By simplifying the offense, by (Frattali) stepping up and being a leader and a little bit of competition, I think those things have allowed him to be better for this upcoming year. This is his senior year. This is his time to shine." - Coach Pierce

Here are your discussion topics...

Last season was all about the running game for the Falcons as they rushed for 2,232 yards and 24 scores. But the passing attack left much to be desired, totaling a meager 876 yards - the second-lowest total in the district. Can they improve on that number in 2009?

Previous Entries
Loudoun County
Park View

By Matt Brooks  |  August 10, 2009; 11:10 PM ET
Categories:  Briar Woods High School , Dulles District , Football , High School Sports  | Tags: Briar Woods High School, Dulles District, Football  
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