Max Meadows…Coming off two years of making the playoffs and with 13 seniors this year, things looked real good for this upcoming season.
Less than a week before practice was to officially begin, head coach Todd Tiller announced he was leaving for Ridgeview High School to be an assistant. It was a going home situation for him. For the Pioneers the timing was tough. They had to have a new head coach and the Fort Chiswell High School administration picked assistant Josh Wingate to fill that role. Coach Wingate has been with the program for six years. This will be his first time as the head coach. When asked about the upcoming year, Coach Wingate remarked, “We going to do what we have been doing the last couple successful seasons here.”
The last time the Pioneers made a coaching change so close to the start of the season it didn’t go well, at all. It was in fact a horrible 0-10 mark. Since then the Pioneers have went 16-8 and this squad is very experienced. The 13 seniors are leading five juniors, nine sophomores and nine freshmen.
Coach Wingate is starting his seventh season and he will be his own offensive coordinator. His staff has experience with James Whitlock and “Doc” Meredith. Whitlock is in his 19th overall season. He will coach the offensive and defensive lines. Meredith is starting his second year with the Pioneers and 28th overall year. He will be the Pioneers defensive coordinator. He will work with defensive ends, line and linebackers. Josh Shrader is beginning his third year at Fort Chiswell and fifth overall. He is coaching up the running backs and defensive backs. Chucky Brown is in his sixth year and will help with defensive and offensive lines. Cory Mabry has been added to the staff since the coaching change. Mabry is a former Pioneer football player and will help with the wide receivers. Other coaches that will help with the varsity, junior varsity and /or middle school are Danny Dunford – his fifth year as middle school head coach.
Chris Hanks his fourth year, Ricky Poole his third season and Steve Lowe in his second year.
Coach Wingate was asked about each team that is on his schedule and he gave a very brief answer to each team. “Rural Retreat is like us in that they will have a new head coach in Jamey Hughes. He’s been there for years and they will be physical.”
“George Wythe will be tough as usual and Coach Harner’s teams play hard. (Radford) will be very athletic, well coached and they will show you lot of creative sets. (Floyd Co.) has some real good players back and they are well coached.”
“(Auburn) has some good players back, have a quarterback that runs real well.” With regard to Galax, “Coach Dixon has a heck of a program going. They return lot of kids, physical and will be extremely tough to beat. (Tazewell) were very young last year and most of those players are back. Played us very tough last year.” As for Grayson Co., “I owe a lot to Coach McPherson. He helped me get started in football. So Grayson will be well coached and it’s always a battle when we play them. (Graham) are very athletic. Their quarterback, Cameron Allen, has committed to Purdue. He is as good as anyone we will face this year. They lost some real good players but they are fast and physical.” Bland Co., “Coach Hart has been there for number of years and does a great job. He has some good players back and will be very competitive.”
The Pioneers will be somewhat multiple on offense as they will go pistol and under center, and spread formations. Coach Wingate said, ”I’d like for us to be like the last two years in that we are 60-40 run-to-pass.“ He then remarked, “Defensively we will stay with our 3-5- 3 look. We will send linebackers at times and change things up a little too, like the last two seasons.”
When asked about how practice has been since he was named the new coach, he replied, ”It’s still been a whirlwind for me. Lot to do and in a short period of time. I have liked the energy the kids have brought to practice each day. They have worked very hard. I have coached these seniors since their middle school days.” He then added, ”Depth is a issue for us as well as other teams that are our size or smaller. I like and feel good about the start, so far though.”
If Fort Chiswell was to start or name a starting lineup on offensive and defense, it would look like this. Offensively, Luke Arnold a sophomore at center. The guards will be Ethan Woods and Jon Gregory. Tackles are Billy Shrewsberry and Jonah “Loopie” Turpin, both seniors. Brody Crockett, senior, would be the starting quarterback. The backs are senior Tyler Jakubiak at “H” and junior Denver Brown at running back. Tight end is senior Aaron Crawford, with Zach Johnson a junior and senior Logan Newman the wide outs. Other to see time on offense will be Hayden Hakws, Jonathon Poole, and Garrett Chrisley.
Defensively the Pioneers will lineup with Billy Shrewsberry, “Loopie” Turpin and fellow senior Garrett Chrisley on the line. Outside linebackers will be Aaron Crawford and Denver Brown. The inside linebackers are senior Ethan Woods, sophomore Jonathon Poole and senior Hayden Hawks. Zack Johnson, Logan Newman the cornerbacks and Tyler Jakubiak at safety. Jon Gregory, Josh Brown a sophomore, sophomore Isaac Dunford, freshman Tyler Crigger and freshman Ezra Varney will see some time on defense, too.
Coach Wingate said, “I like to say again that I appreciate to be given this chance. Coach Tiller did a fine job here and happy for him in his new job. It’s been a big change but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Fort Chiswell will have some very talented seniors and if injuries don’t occur, this team could be really good. The question is will the late coaching change come into play. This team has the makings of another playoff run.