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First Down: Freedom Eagles

The start of the 2009 football season is less than one month away! Can you believe it? As coaches and players start training camp in the coming week, 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.

Now, first up are the Freedom Eagles.

FREEDOM EAGLES
Coach: Mick Mullins, first year
Last year: 1-9 (0-7 Dulles District)

The Eagles are starting over again as new head coach Mick Mullins comes over from Park View to rebuild this program from the ground up. Freedom has struggled mightily in its first two years in the Dulles District, compiling a 1-19 mark over the last two years while going win-less in league competition. Mullins has a daunting task before him but the returning crop of players from last year's squad include several talented athletes and position players who could develop into solid contributors over the next couple years. Right now, the Eagles are trying to build from the ground up and how that translates into success this season might not be the best barometer of the progress Mullins makes in year one.

Offense
Returning Starters: 3
Overall: 14.6 points per game
Passing: 87-215, 1,154 yards, 18 INTs, 10 TDs
Rushing: 240 carries, 665 yds, 7 TDs
Kicking: 3 FGs, 15 XPs

Key Losses
QB Luke Bratton, RB Marcus Clinton, FB T.J. Mizzell, WR Dakota Porter, WR Jeremy Rilko, WR Michael Marceron

Key Returners
RB Jeff Pugh (Sr) - 24 carries, 115 yds, 2 TDs; 6 rec., 75 yds, 1 TD
Despite playing in only two games last season, Pugh managed to tie for third on the team in total touchdowns among backs and receivers. If that's not an indicator of how valuable he was to his team, just look at the difference in rushing yards for the Eagles over the past two years. With Pugh in 2007, they rumbled for over 1,000 yards compared to just 665 in 2008. If the Eagles can get their offensive line working as a unit, Pugh could easily surpass his career high of 529 yards and 5 touchdowns set his sophomore year. Mullins has to be thrilled to have at least one proven commodity in his backfield.

WR Brian Orr (Sr) - 22 rec., 398 yds, 5 TDs
The senior wideout was a nice surprise last season, leading the team in catches and receiving yards while totaling the most yards from scrimmage and touchdowns of any offensive position player. Look for the Eagles to try to get the ball into Orr's hands even more this season, although that could be difficult with an unsettled quarterback situation. Still, Orr should be considered one of the better wide receivers currently flying under the radar.

PK Nico Vivaldi (Sr) - 3 FGs, 15-18 XPs
Despite the dearth of scoring overall, Vivaldi served as a reliable place-kicker for the Eagles in 2008. He missed only three of 18 extra point attempts and showed some real range by blasting all three of his field goals from at least 33 yards out. His long for the season was a 38-yarder against Briar Woods in the season finale. Vivaldi also played on the offensive line and in the linebacking corps.


Senior Jeff Pugh is healthy and ready to lead the way for the Eagle offense in 2009 (Photo by Katherine Frey, The Washington Post)

Position Battles to Watch
Quarterback - Junior Chuck Thompson was the only quarterback other than Bratton to take snaps in a game last year, completing 4-of-5 passes for 28 yards. He'll likely be the front-runner heading into camp but until Mullins gets a sense for what kind of talent he's working with, the job will likely be up for grabs. The only other QB on the roster last year was 6-foot-2 freshman Andrew Lamant, who might be even taller entering his second season in South Riding. We'll have to keep an eye on how this situation develops to see who emerges as starter.

Offensive Line - The Eagles had a ton of sophomore and junior O-linemen on last year's roster, which should bode well for their development in Mullins' first season. They've got some big bodies who will be fighting for playing time in the trenches in the coming weeks. For this offense to have a chance of improving over last year's meager totals, they'll need better protection for a young quarterback and improved blocking for their star runner.

Defense
Returning Starters: 3
Overall: 43.8 points allowed per game
Passing: 47-84, 1,001 yds, 14 TDs
Rushing: 391 carries, 2,992 yards, 39 TDs
(*Nine games counted for yardage totals)

Key Losses
DL T.J. Mizzell, LB Marcus Clinton, DL Dennis Carignan,

Key Returners
LBs Phil Britten (Sr), Steve Lucketts (Sr), Mike McGovern (Sr), Nico Vivaldi (Sr)
DBs Jeff Pugh (Sr), Kevin Rodriguez (Sr)

Position Battles to Watch
You name it - Expect a major overhaul of this unit under the tutelage of Mullins, who was the defensive coordinator at Park View the last few years. The Eagles have a bit of experience at the linebacker position and many of the same big bodies will by vying for playing time on both lines. Right now, it's hard to pinpoint any individual who has locked down a starting position on this squad so there should be plenty of healthy competition in camp.

Schedule
9/4 - vs. Warren County
9/11 - vs. Brentsville
9/17 - @ Kettle Run
9/25 - @ Briar Woods
10/2 - vs. Dominion
10/9 - @ George Mason
10/16 - vs. Broad Run
10/23 - vs. Potomac Falls
10/30 - @ Loudoun County
11/6 - @ Park View

Odds and Ends
- Mullins brought on Freedom girls' varsity basketball coach Jason Eldredge to be his defensive coordinator soon after taking the head coaching job. Eldredge is a fiery competitor who was able to captivate the entire South Riding community as he led his girls to the school's first ever state title. His presence alone should excite the fan base and help establish a winning pedigree at Freedom.

- The Eagles will start with a base 4-4 defense that should tailor to their speed and quickness. Offensively, Mullins said his squad will run power play, toss sweep, some play action and a bit of spread - although likely far less than they did a year ago.

Coach's Corner
"The South Riding community has welcomed us. There's an excitement there, the kids are excited. We're going to do what we can take care of and the things that we can handle and that's try to get better every day."

"As far as players and position, those are big question marks. We're going to be really young. We're going to have a lot of kids doing different things, so a lot of those questions I don't have the answers to yet. We'll get those answers on the field." - Coach Mullins

And now a couple discussion topics for you...

By Matt Brooks  |  July 30, 2009; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Dulles District , Football , Freedom High School , High School Sports  | Tags: Dulles District, Football, Freedom High School  
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Next: First Down: Dominion Titans

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