By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
In oppressive humidity and with a baking sun peeking out from behind the clouds, T.C. Williams’ 2016 football sea- son officially got underway at Parker-Gray Stadium Monday afternoon.
At the center of it all was new head coach James Longerbeam, the third Titans head coach in three years, tasked with reviving a program that has gone 2-8 overall in each of its last two seasons.
Longerbeam arrived in Alexandria from Bay High School in Panama City, Fla., having also coached at Loris High School in Loris, S.C. Schools officials said upon his hiring in February that he rebuilt both programs after years of losing seasons, and must do the same again with the Titans.
Despite what might seem like a daunting task, Longerbeam said it is a challenge he relishes.
“Honestly, I thought it was the premier job,” he said. “I think it could be one of the better jobs around, because everybody knows the name T.C. Williams because of the movie [‘Remember The Titans’]. But I just thought because we’re the only [public high] school in this city, you’ve got the middle schools, you’ve got the Little League programs and all that stuff. I think it’s a great job.”
The first day of practice was a chance for the approximately 110 players from the varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams to be put through their paces in a variety of drills in blistering heat. Longerbeam said the main priority at this stage of the season is to get all his players’ conditioning up to snuff and to get them up to speed with the fundamentals of playing football.
For some players, practice might be a daunting experience as they are being assessed for possible starting spots and other roles by the coaches,but it represents a big opportunity too.
“You’ve just got to play through it and give it all you have, because effort is what’s going to get you out there on the field,” said senior linebacker and fullback Teyan Williams. “People can be ahead of you, but the ones who give effort out here on the field, they’re the ones who are going to play. There isn’t anything to be scared of.”
“It’s crazy, because time flies fast,” said senior linebacker and running back Tyrese Randall. “I remember I was a freshman looking up to the leaders, the upperclassmen. And now it’s my time to lead, and everybody’s looking to me to be one of the leaders.”
With only four victories over two seasons, the Titans have struggled to make much of an impact in a strong Patriot conference, and have not made the playoffs since 2013. For the players who have been part of the program through this lean period, it serves as extra motivation in what will be their final chance to taste success on the football field in high school.
“It’s happened two seasons in a row, so we try to forget it every chance we can,” said senior defensive lineman Ebenezer Belayneh. “We look forward, but it’s hard to look back, especially when your past isn’t the best. We look forward, onto better things.”
“It’s a new season,” said Williams. “It’s motivation, but you’ve got to throw it out the window. That season’s over. You’ve just got to get ready for the new season that’s coming up.”
This season promises to bring more difficult games for T.C., which is slated to play at reigning Virginia High School League 6A state champions Westfield in non-conference play before going through a strong conference schedule. Players and coaches agreed that it is imperative for the team to improve its discipline on the field and reduce turnovers.
Longerbeam said he is looking for his team to show character and determination, even though they will be underdogs.
“One of the biggest things is I want our kids to play hard,” he said. “When we play people, I want people to say, ‘Damn, T.C. plays hard.’ That’s the biggest thing. They’re going to be physical and they’re going to get after you.”
As for the season itself, there is an expectation that the team will do better than 2-8 in 2016, with an agreement that the talent is there on the roster, it just needs to be harnessed in the right way.
“We have one of the hardest schedules, but I’m looking for good things this season,” said Belayneh. “I’m looking for us to come together more as a team and be more dominant, and win more games.”
“I expect us to be very, very competitive, I really do,” said Longerbeam. “I think if we do what we’re capable of doing and don’t beat ourselves, I think we have a chance to be competitive in every game we play.”
The team is set to practice daily, with its first scrimmage slated for August 19, at home against H.D. Woodson.