By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)
Bishop Ireton head coach Tony Verducci will be the first to tell you that his football program has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride in recent years.
“Well, two years ago, we were 9-3, but then we went 1-9 last year,” Verducci said in advance of the school’s season opener against Park View High School. “Needless to say, we’re hoping for a bounce-back year.”
Despite a rough first half, the Cardinals got their season off on the right foot Friday, securing a 21-2 victory in front of a home crowd. For the time being, the young squad is undefeated.
Although the team lost a few three- and four-year starters to graduation, the new players — many are still sophomores — already enjoy better chemistry than squads in previous years, said associate head coach Charlie Meyers.
“They really play well together, and they get along,” Meyers said. “There’s more team unity than in the past couple of years, where some personalities [clashed].”
Verducci has built the offense around senior running back Hudson Sullivan, with a simple system that minimizes turnovers.
“We want to spread the ball around,” Verducci said. “We want to be physical at the point of attack and run the ball. We just need to keep it simple and execute well.”
Sullivan has a number of suitors at the college level, Verducci said, including James Madison University, the University of Richmond and University of Delaware.
On the defensive side, Verducci highlighted junior linebacker Josh Ammon and senior linebacker Dylan Espinoza as major strengths. The longtime coach has embraced a hard-nosed strategy. The game plan: hit opposing teams at the line of scrimmage and simply be more physical, overpowering offenses.
Verducci’s philosophy worked for the most part against Park View. Although the offense sputtered in the first half — in part because of costly dead-ball fouls and a blocked punt that led to a safety — junior quarterback Justin Latrash and Sullivan led the team to three touchdowns in the second half.
And on defense, Ammon and Espinoza swarmed around the ball. Park View’s offense never caught sight of the end zone.
Although Verducci wants a season-long turnaround from last year, he preaches concentrating on one game at a time, especially with such a young team.
“We have a lot of sophomores in our group, and a lot of them are playing their first year of varsity football,” he said. “So you have to just keep them focused on today. You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one.”