Bishop Ireton football powers to a strong start

Bishop Ireton football powers to a strong start
Chip Armstrong, head coach of the B.I. football team, leads a pep talk at practice on Tuesday afternoon. The team is preparing for its upcoming matchup against St. Albans School on Sept. 14. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

By Missy Schrott |

The Bishop Ireton High School football team started off the 2019-2020 season strong this past Saturday, winning its first home game in four years.

The Cardinals defeated Manassas Park High School 54-15, a refreshing start to the season after finishing last year with a 1-9 record.

“This year, it’s like a revenge tour,” wide receiver Reid Hartwell said. “The season last year definitely didn’t go the way we wanted it to. And we have a lot of talented people this year, and we’re just looking to change the narrative.”

The B.I. football team runs a play at practice on Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

Hartwell, a senior, was the star of Saturday’s game, pulling down six catches for 171 yards and scoring three touchdowns.

“That’s a pretty good day,” Head Coach Chip Armstrong said of Hartwell’s performance. “I can’t remember a receiver that I’ve coached that had those kinds of numbers.”

Hartwell attributed his success to the selflessness of his teammates.

“It was just a team effort,” Hartwell said. “All the playmakers on offense, they were all unselfish. They just wanted to see everyone succeed, so you know their blocking and stuff like that just opened up opportunities for me.”

While Saturday’s game was a good start, the coaches and players agree they have a long way to go.

“It’s a work in progress,” Armstrong said. “Our expectations are fairly high. We wanna keep the bar high, just to play as well as we possibly can and improve every week. That’s all we really can ask.”

Coach Chip Armstrong. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

Armstrong, who has coached football for 30 years, returned to his hometown of Alexandria to coach Bishop Ireton last year. He had previously been head coach of the team in the mid-90s.

Armstrong’s team this year is fairly young, with nine seniors, nine juniors, 12 sophomores and nine freshmen, according to the roster on the B.I. website.

With a young team, Armstrong said he’s working to strengthen his players’ mental game.

“It’s just kind of developing a mentality of habits that are conducive to winning,” Armstrong said. “We’re trying to establish more of a blue-collar mentality [of] being on time, working hard every day, consistency of effort, being a good teammate [and] putting the team before the individual.”

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Defensive Coordinator John Panker said his first impression of the team was, “We have a lot of work to do.”

Panker said he’s seen small improvements since then, but that the team still needs to strengthen its football IQ.

“The kids are young, so it’s a learning process,” Panker said.

Number 50 leaps to catch the ball at practice on Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

Besides the age of the players, another problem the Cardinals are facing this year is the size of the team, Armstrong said. The team went from about 55 players last year to 39 players this year, with no junior varsity team. Armstrong said the drop was due to football numbers being down across the country.

Despite the decrease in size, Armstrong said he’s impressed with the players he has.

“I’ve got really committed guys,” Armstrong said. “I don’t want guys that are lukewarm, so it’s been good the guys that I have are really putting forth a great effort, and I can depend on them. I’d rather have a smaller number and guys that we can count on.”

With a bye week this week, the team is preparing to face off against St. Albans School at 2 p.m. on Sept. 14, when the Cardinals have a chance to make it two straight home wins.

“It looks like St. Albans is going to be a pretty good opponent,” Armstrong said in a pep talk to players at practice on Tuesday. “Think about where you came from the first week to this week. We want to improve just as much between now and the time we take the field again against St. Albans.”

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