A season ago Alec Grosser shouldered the pressure of stepping into the cleats of the Doug Murphy, the starting quarterback for last years T.C. Williams Titans.
Hes facing a different burden this year: leading his squad to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.
But the junior quarterback says its given him clarity as he prepares to tackle the celebrated football teams post-season dearth. Hes returned to the practice field with new focus, new intensity.
Im a lot more focused, just going into the season knowing Im the guy, Grosser said between outdoor practice and classroom work Monday. Ive been stressing with these guys about working out over the summer, coming into the season with a sense of urgency. The playoffs thats what its all about.
Grosser threw for 1,200 yards in 2010 after filling in for Murphy, who was sidelined with an injury. Though Murphy would later return to the gridiron, Grosser had shown enough promise to keep the starting job.
Head coach Dennis Randolph said Grosser had the makings of a stellar athlete then and hes confident the junior is the right man for the job now. Whereas T.C. headed into the regular season with questions at the quarterback position a year ago, there is no doubt who will lead the team this season.
Were really looking for him to have a big year, Randolph said. He understands what needs to be done offensively and executed in the spread. Hes been vocal in the locker room.
Murphy wasnt the only Titan injured last season. The team struggled to stay healthy, losing key players like rising University of Virginia freshman Jay Whitmire and former linebacker Deontre Sanders before crucial games.
While theres no perfect game plan to avoid injuries, Randolph believes staying fit in the offseason and intense summer workouts will give players a better shot at staying healthy.
Maybe its last seasons sucker punch ending playoff dreams cut short yet again despite a resurgent second half of the campaign but many of Randolphs players have thrown themselves into summer workouts harder than hes ever seen in his five-year tenure at T.C.
Im really impressed. We had a great summer, 80 or 90 kids working out all summer, lifting and running, he said. Its been better every year, but I think the intensity has been better [this year].
This is the year, said senior center Aaron Tovsky.
Weve been working really hard on our conditioning and making sure were doing a great job of getting into mental shape, he said. This is our year. We were so close last year.
Despite going 6-4 and winning four of the final five regular season games, the Titans fell short in the point-based system Virginia uses to determine playoff-caliber squads. As they celebrated a 45-6 drubbing of Lee on November 5, Randolph had the tough job of telling the guys their season was over.
For Tovsky, it was a deserving end. On too many occasions the team had let their competitors get the best of them, he said. Theyre looking at a fresh slate this season.
Grosser remembers receiving the mind blowing news the Titans had missed the playoffs. Hell remember it as he takes the field for the first game of the season against Wakefield on September 1.
We know what to expect, what to do and how to use time wisely. Im excited, he said. Im expecting us to work hard and compete in every game.