By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Last year, Episcopal’s football team earned a three-way share of the Interstate Athletic Conference title, led in part by a group of talented seniors, many of whom went on to play in college.
With those 18 individuals gone, it is up to those remaining to keep the Maroon competitive atop a closely matched IAC, having shared the title with Bullis and Georgetown Prep last year while earning a 6-1-1 overall record.
The road to the new season started last week for Episcopal, which began practice Wednesday aware of the challenges that lie ahead given the roster turnover.
“There’s no way to replace that group of seniors,” said Maroon head coach Panos Voulgaris. “[Almost] all of them were significant contributors on the field, and they all contributed in ways that are tough to quantify.
“That was a tremendous senior group, and those 18 guys aren’t here anymore. We have to move on. They left behind a
wonderful legacy, and now this group has to quickly develop and try to fill their shoes.”
That said, there are some exciting talents on the Maroon’s roster. Already, safety Jonathan Sutherland has committed to Penn State, while defensive lineman Luiji Vilain will play for Michigan. Joining them is running back Perris Jones, a transfer from local rival Bishop Ireton, who will be eligible to play for Episcopal for two years after re-classing his junior year this year.
Jones had 1,545 rushing yards in 2015 as he helped the Cardinals reach the final of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association state tournament, where they lost to Benedictine.
“I admired the program even [when I was] at Ireton. It’s a bunch of hard-working guys that love to get after it and they all have a goal of going to the next level, which I want to get to as well,” Jones said. “It really pushes me; it’s going to be a culture that pushes me academically as well as athletically. I’m very attracted from that perspective.”
Jones said he was referred to Episcopal by former Ireton head coach Tony Verducci, who was relieved of his duties at Ireton late last year. After applying and impressing the school’s admissions staff, as well as Voulgaris and his fellow football coaches, Jones said the move to a new program has been relatively straightforward.
“The guys here are really accepting, made the transition really easy,” he said. “I knew a couple of the guys on the team from track season; we mingled a little bit and formed a friendship through that. Then coming here, it’s spread throughout the whole team and everybody’s accepting me and making me feel comfortable, so it’s been very smooth.”
At a session Thursday at the Hummel Bowl on campus, the players mainly focused on conditioning and fundamentals, in addition to working on specific plays and the team’s no-huddle offense. It was only the team’s second day of practice, but players said it was good to be back on the field.
“This is what we’ve been working for all offseason, to get in a helmet and shoulder pads and start hitting people,” Sutherland said. “We look forward to it as a team.”
Given the graduation of several key contributors from last year, including offensive linemen Joe Goff and Jesse Meyler and defensive backs Eli Blair-May, Taj Gooden and Patrice Rene, Voulgaris said he is still looking for his players to step up and be leaders.
“We’re still going through that process,” he said. “It’s only day two. I haven’t seen these guys since the end of May. We’re going to find out. I’m going to challenge them every day and then we’ll see how they develop.”
As for the team’s schedule, the late start means they are playing catch up in terms of training. Episcopal’s first game is slated for September 16 at Paul VI, and Voulgaris said it is imperative for practices to be as efficient as possible and for players to work hard on conditioning to catch up to their opponents.
“We’re certainly behind, and we have to make up ground fast,” he said. “All of our opponents have been practicing for almost two weeks in advance of us, so we have our work cut out for us. But that’s this game. No one’s going to feel bad for you, so we can’t be easy on ourselves because no one’s going to be easy on us.”
In a competitive conference and with many tough opponents ahead, Maroon players know to be successful they will have to rely on more than just ability.
“I think we have the guys around here that’ll really bond and really push each other,” Jones said. “We’ll work hard and get the job done against anybody that shows up on the playing field. I believe we have that kind of talent as well as that kind of work ethic.”