Talented Episcopal football team look forward to 2015 despite late start

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Talented Episcopal football team look forward to 2015 despite late start
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By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)

With high school football season almost underway across the region, some teams have had two or even three weeks to practice together, hone their skills and improve their conditioning.

Not so for Episcopal High School’s players, who only began practicing together under head coach Panos Voulgaris on August 25. Episcopal’s path is complicated by competing in the Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which is full of talented teams. In addition, the Maroon graduated 18 seniors last year, 14 of which were starters.

But on the back of a 7-2 record in 2014, finishing second in the IAC to Bullis School, Episcopal is feeling confident heading into the new season, and players said they are under no illusions about the work required before their first game on September 19 at home against Paul VI.

“It’s a little tough out here — the weather is getting a little hotter for everyone — but it’s good to work hard out here and we’re putting in the work you need to put in to become a better team,” said senior offensive lineman Joe Goff after a recent training session. “Coach Voulgaris has pushed us and I think it’s a lot about bonding together and coming together as a team and working as hard as we possibly can. Hopefully when it comes time for the games, we can go out there and push our hardest and do the best we can.”

The delayed start to training compared to other programs is due to Episcopal’s unique nature as a boarding school; the facilities, dorm rooms and dining hall are not staffed until relatively late in August. It leaves the football program with some catching up to do, but players said they hope to measure up against opponents who have been together since earlier in the summer.

“We’ve got a long road ahead of us, but we’re working hard every single day and we’re trying to make the best of it,” said senior offensive lineman Jesse Meyler. “We go for our two-a-days as hard as we can. Our goal is to be the best-practiced team out there, and by practicing hard every single day we can make up anything.”

“When we get out here, we try and work hard,” said senior defensive lineman Tajah Gooden. “I think we work really hard as a team; we have a lot of team chemistry, so we make [the period of time without practice] up by doing that, and by working hard every day.”

Since Voulgaris took charge in 2012, the Maroon have seen their record improve each year, having gone 5-4 in 2013 and 7-2 last season, only losing in 2014 to eventual state finalists Bishop Ireton and Bullis.

This year, Episcopal has a talented roster highlighted by Meyler and Goff, who already have committed to Northwestern and the U.S. Naval Academy, respectively. And defensive backs Patrice Rene and Jonathan Sutherland both are uncommitted four-star recruits. Even with these potential college stars, Voulgaris said he knows the team has to work hard on the practice field to keep up with a conference filled with similarly talented rosters.

“I think we’ve got a pretty humble team, and these guys know that nothing’s going to be given to them,” Voulgaris said. “They have to earn everything. We have to be a good practice team that works hard and keeps things in perspective and we know that we have to earn everything, every opportunity we get.”

“We’re feeling like we’ve got a lot of potential but we need to put in a lot of work,” said senior running back and safety Eli Blair-May. “Coach reminds us every day we could be good, but we have to put in a lot of work to be the best we can be.”

One of the biggest tests for Episcopal will come at home against Bullis on November 17. Having finished No. 1 in the IAC two years in a row, the Bulldogs are loaded with strong players and present the strongest challenge in the Maroon’s effort to win the conference. But players refused to look too far ahead, especially with a number of tough games to come.

“[Bullis is] a very talented and very good football team, but our focus is on week one and getting ready for Paul VI,” said Voulgaris. “That’s where our focus is right now. That’s a good football team and that’s what we have to have in our minds. We can’t be looking five or six weeks down the road, we’ve got to take care of today.”

“We don’t worry about [Bullis] too much,” said Rene. “We just take it day by day. As a team, we just focus on making sure we get better ourselves, and the rest is going to take care of itself. If we keep doing what we have to do — go hard at practice, listen to the coaches — I think we’ll be just fine. It’ll be a competitive game; we just need that little bit [extra]. This year’s going to be different.”

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