Nineteen boys stepped off the college bus, walked down the hill into Butler Stadium and ready for a do-over.
After enjoying 11-man soccer since no less than 1959, Quantico High School now deliberate to compete in eight-man soccer. Small enrollment and fixed turnover, staples of life on the Marine Corps’ base college the place army households transfer on a regular basis, precipitated the change.
The pandemic solely added to the problem, forcing Quantico to cancel the 2020 season after which the 2021 season to provide it time to transition to a brand new format, schedule and coach.
As extra excessive colleges cope with declining soccer participation numbers, Dan Moore sees eight-man soccer turning into extra interesting.
Excited. Nervous. Curious. Confused. The boys skilled all these feelings on this windy, however nice May afternoon as they handed Marines doing their very own exercises on and across the observe.
After chatting the entire means, they scattered their backpacks among the many single bleacher’s 5 rows, modified their footwear from crocs to cleats and awaited additional instruction from first-year head coach Steve Casner.
The 47-year-old lower an imposing determine. At 6-foot-5, the broad-shouldered, barrel-chested Casner nonetheless regarded like the school defensive lineman/tight finish he as soon as was at Cal Poly.
“I don’t like to talk over people,” Casner mentioned in a agency voice. “If I have to do that, then we’re causing delays.”
There was no time to slack off. Over 10 days for 2 and half hours every session, Casner and assistant Wes Faulk would maintain conditioning and non-contact drills with an emphasis on soccer fundamentals for any child involved in enjoying for the Warriors subsequent fall.
The time required persistence and dedication as Casner and Faulk evaluated and taught a bunch of youngsters between the seventh and eleventh grades with no soccer expertise at Quantico, little to no varsity expertise and no familiarity with eight-man soccer.
But hope remained. If the youngsters gave their all, the whole lot else would fall into place, Casner reminded them. That’s all he requested.
So off to the sphere they went with the most effective of each worlds ready for them inside a 101-year-old stadium that after hosted faculty soccer video games. It was a distinct panorama, evidenced by one boy sporting a masks. But it was additionally the identical as they ran round mini-orange cones and executed timing routes and blocking methods.
This was nonetheless soccer as they honored the previous, whereas adapting to the longer term.
During the primary week of college, sophomore Mick Johnston set to work drumming up assist for the return of soccer in 2022.
He and fellow sophomore Jaren Allen and junior Xavier Mims walked the halls, writing down any identify even when the scholar simply confirmed a passing curiosity. Johnston needed to do no matter he might to make sure Quantico might discipline a workforce.
He’d missed enjoying his freshman season at Kellam High School in Virginia Beach when the college didn’t discipline a junior varsity workforce. The quarterback then arrived at Quantico anticipating to play soccer for a program he knew had a profitable status, reaching the VISAA Division 3 state remaining in 2016.
When Quantico determined to delay soccer for a 12 months, Johnston refused to sit down again and do nothing. Since he deliberate to graduate from Quantico, Johnston had no need to go elsewhere regardless that all highschool college students residing on base have the choice of attending close by Potomac, the bottom’s zoned public highschool.
He might nonetheless entice faculty curiosity right here. More importantly, although, Johnston needed to guide by instance.
“I’m willing to take all the pressure,” Johnston mentioned.
Johnston mentioned Casner’s dedication impressed him to maintain combating for soccer as properly. Casner was the one one who interviewed for the pinnacle teaching job. Quantico introduced his rent May 6. Five days later, he led his first exercise.
The new place stretched him. Casner already served as the college’s athletic director and as a college counselor, whereas serving to with the baseball workforce.
But Casner welcomed the problem. Sports has all the time been a giant a part of his life and he regarded ahead to giving again. He had expertise as properly, beforehand teaching soccer at excessive colleges in his native California as properly Texas and in Okinawa, Japan.
Understanding the distinctive circumstances going through Quantico, Casner remained life like and upbeat with a step-by-step strategy that included the potential for altering the brand.
When Casner took over as head soccer coach, he held a gathering the place 36 youngsters signed up, together with 5 rising seniors. The turnout inspired Casner. And even when these numbers dropped off a bit, they nonetheless had sufficient to no less than construct one thing with for eight-man soccer.
“We’re treating this like we’re starting from the basics,” Casner mentioned.
Quantico soccer skilled success up to now.
Under long-time AD Paul Roy, who additionally oversaw soccer earlier than retiring in May, 2021, the Warriors posted three straight successful seasons from 2015-17, together with two consecutive playoff appearances and recording this system’s first 10-0 regular-season end.
Prior to that run, Quantico superior to the state remaining in 1995 and 1996 by going 11-2. And Gene Leonard, a member of the college’s athletic corridor of fame, compiled a 106-76-13 file as Quantico’s head coach from 1959-1990, a mark that included a 7-1 file in 1968 and a 7-0 mark in 1970.
But for all its periodic triumphs, Quantico nonetheless lived inside a boom-or-bust cycle. If that they had a couple of good athletes, the Warriors carried out properly. If they lacked expertise and athleticism and key gamers moved out, struggles ensued.
After going a mixed 24-8 from 2015-17, the Warriors went 3-11 over their subsequent two seasons.
Football was the one sport Quantico didn’t have final fall as the college examined its future.
To discipline a soccer workforce, Quantico wanted to create an impartial schedule, one thing that was difficult to do after sports activities shut down for the earlier college 12 months and with the shortage of comparable sized colleges to compete in opposition to in Northern Virginia.
Quantico additionally was anticipating decrease numbers than normal on the college and was with no full-time athletic director till Casner formally took the place Aug. 2. Quantico’s enrollment for ninth by 12 grades is between 120 and 130 college students.
In addition Casner mentioned the college determined to go with out soccer for 2021 because it was becoming a member of a brand new convention (the Greater Piedmont Athletic Conference), the place not one of the different colleges had soccer.
Looking for an answer, Dan Moore provided a viable various that appealed to Quantico. The president of the Virginia Independent Schools Football League requested the college final fall about becoming a member of the VISFL’s eight-man convention.
Quantico accepted the supply and can start play this fall with a 10-game schedule.
“I felt confident football would come back, but 11-man wasn’t sustainable,” Casner mentioned.
READY TO WORK
During a break on the first exercise, one participant requested Casner if he might play two positions.
“Absolutely,” Casner mentioned. “We will need everyone to play two.”
Later, Casner requested if anybody needed to play on the road. While eight-man soccer requires fewer gamers upfront, no less than three are wanted. Casner initially fearful everybody needed to run, catch or throw the soccer.
But 4 boys raised their hand in response to Casner’s query.
“I love that,” Casner exclaimed.
During the second break, one more participant approached Casner not sure if he was quick sufficient to play extensive receiver. Casner allayed his fears by telling him he’d work out positions later.
For the second, Casner needed everybody to change into aware of fundamental ideas. He and Faulk spent more often than not demonstrating correct tackling method, footwork and stances.
They additionally ran some passing drills earlier than sending the 4 future lineman to work on climbing the ball.
All of it excited Johnston, who was not shy about expressing his ardour or confidence.
“I love the game and the mental aspect of it,” Johnston mentioned. “I’m not the greatest athlete, but I’m quick and agile. I think it’s a natural fit.”
The key’s studying how eight-man soccer operates. Typically offenses are wide-open, which caters to Johnston’s mobility. He’s studied up on his opponents, together with Greenbrier Christian quarterback Cade Cox, a Division I prospect and returning all-state performer.
“I’m coming for his spot,” Johnston boasted.
Once the exercise was over, Johnston, Allen and Mims stayed behind to reply questions on their need to play soccer at Quantico.
Allen mentioned he competed in soccer final fall, however soccer is his favourite sport.
“It’s not a choice,” Allen mentioned about taking part in both soccer or soccer. “There’s no decision. It’s just football.”
As they started to go away, Allen promised one thing else to remove any doubt relating to he and his teammates’ dedication. Yes they face some daunting obstacles, however nobody flinched about what lay forward.
They took consolation within the alternative earlier than them. That was sufficient for now. The relaxation will comply with.
“We’ll be here,” Allen mentioned. “And you will see us working.”