Special to the Times
The defending Class AA Champions came into the season with a unified mindset and a mentality that carried over into a one-word slogan: “Relentless.”
“All year our guys had a great attitude,” Head Coach Ashley Henderson said. “From morning workouts, summer workouts, camp, and into fall practice, we all worked with a blue collar attitude. We got better each week and it was a great ride.”
It was that same intensity that carried the Valiants to a 12-0 start and a 26-game winning streak that began at the start of the 2012 season.
This year’s team was bolstered by numerous newcomers, particularly senior quarterback Seth Carlo and senior linebacker and running back Reggie Robinson.
Carlo came into the season as the starting quarterback and finished the season with impressive numbers, completing 170 of 256 passing attempts (66.4 percent) for 2,096 yards. He threw for 12 touchdowns and also rushed for four.
Robinson was an unquestionable leader and a major component of the defense. At season’s end, his 79.5 tackles (48 solo) led the team. He also accounted for 63 assists and four tackles for loss.
On the receiving end, senior and recent Colgate University (Hamilton, NY) commit Char Merine led the way, reeling in 42 catches totaling 692 yards and six touchdowns.
The rushing game was headline by the junior duo of Zane Edmondson and Marik Merine. The two accounted for 24 touchdowns (12 each).Edmondson totaled 957 yards (9.4 per carry) on 102 rushes, while Merine added 594 yards (7.3 per carry) on 81 attempts.
They destroyed every team that stood in their path with their wins coming by an average of 26 points per game. Their win streak, as well as their quest for consecutive state titles, ended with a 42-20 loss at the hands of the Blue Thunder of Memorial Day Academy (Savannah, Ga.).
The Valiants’ loss to Memorial Day may have ended the team’s chances of a repeat, but it did little to take away from the success of their 2013 season.
“Although we came up short, this bunch had nothing to be ashamed of,” Henderson said. “To get beat in the championship game you’ve got to get there first. We don't measure all our success based on one game. (Winning a championship) will always be the ultimate goal but we have a lot we can look back at and be proud of at the end of the day.”
At the season’s end, Valwood proudly acknowledged that Robinson, along with fellow seniors (lineman) Marvin Dobson, (kicker) Carter Elliott, (defensive back and wide receiver) Char Merine had been named to the GISA All-State team.
These four were also selected to the All-Region team, and were joined by Carlo, senior lineman Spencer McQuaig, junior tight end and defensive end Anthony Folkerts, junior running back Zane Edmondson, junior running back and cornerback Marik Merine.
The accolades did not stop there. Six seniors (Colby DeCesare, George LaHood, Jake Richards, Zack Richards, Ryan White, and Kyle Wilkes) and two juniors (Eli Carlo and Garrett Lovell) were rewarded with All-Region Honorable Mention for their irreplaceable efforts over the course of the year.
With such an exceptional team of gifted young men, it was only fitting that the season awards were capped off with the announcement of a second Coach of the Year award in as many seasons for Coach Henderson. In his two seasons as the commander, he has led his team to an astonishing 26-1 record (.962 winning percentage), back-to-back Region 3-AA titles and state championship in 2012.
“Coach of the year is a great honor,” Henderson said. “But it's about a lot more than just me. It speaks volumes for our players and all the coaches on staff. I'm blessed to be a part of it and am looking forward to the future.”
Aside from the players and coaching staff, Coach Henderson also credits much of the season’s success to the support of the school and the Goddard Field fans.
“Valwood is a special place with a lot of special people,” Henderson said. “Our fan support is tremendous and has grown in the two short years I've been here. The Valwood community is a tight knit family and I am honored to be apart if it.”
Region realignment has the Valiants preparing to move to Class AAA starting in 2014. The teams will get bigger, stronger and faster, but Henderson believes that his team is up for the challenge.
“I am very excited about our football team next year,” Henderson said. “We return a lot of our key guys from this year’s team, and we are moving into year three…guys know what's expected off and on the field. We are also working to beef up the schedule and play some great competition from Florida as well as in the GISA for our non-region schedule. I'm fired up.”
Although the team is graduating 17 seniors, the Valiants are expected to come back strong. They will still carry a deep roster, with talented students and athletes rounding out every position on the field. Under the guidance of a terrific coaching staff, Valwood is ready to make another run at the title in 2014.