South County hired head football coach Gerry Pannoni last summer to replace Pete Bendorf, the school’s first and only head coach up until that point. Bendorf’s untimely departure reportedly left school officials scrambling to find a replacement as quickly as possible.
The Stallions hired Panonni in late July, which put the team and its coaches in the unenviable position of working with an abbreviated timeframe of installing and learning new offensive and defensive systems and left many wondering if the Stallions would be able to adapt fast enough to be competitive.
To say that the team surpassed expectations would be a gross misstatement. After beginning the season 0-3, the Stallions rattled off 11 consecutive wins en route to capturing the 2011 Patriot District title and Northern Region title, cementing a spot in the Virginia High School League AAA championship game.
Several key players from last season’s magical squad have departed, none more notable than linebacker Devin Vandyke, who is now enrolled at Virginia Tech. Wide receiver and kicker Michael Ferguson, who saved some of his best performances for last year’s playoffs, will also have to be replaced.
The 2011 Stallions leaned on a running back by committee approach that was anchored by the powerful, yet graceful Andrew Rector. While head coach Gerry Panonni must find a suitable replacement for Rector, several key contributors from last year’s unstoppable rushing attack return and will make the transition fairly easy.
Senior Oren Burks anchors a depleted Stallion defense and will be relied upon to provide veteran leadership. Burks earned Washington Post All-Met Honorable Mention honors last season. Earlier this month, the rising senior committed to play football for Vanderbilt University (Tenn.) in 2013.
2011 - One for the record books
South County made its first-ever state championship appearance against Phoebus on December 10, 2011 at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va. And after hanging with Phoebus for nearly three quarters of play, it looked as if the Stallions were on their way to capping the unimaginable season with a state championship victory. But a couple of late-game turnovers doomed South County as Phoebus went on to win 20-10.
Stout defense and a battering three-headed rushing attack were the ingredients for South County’s success last season as the Stallion defense surrendered just 181 points to opponents in 2011, while scoring 364, the most in the school’s seven-year history. Pannoni will rely on the same formula as the Lorton, Va. school looks to avenge last year’s state title loss.
How far will the Stallions go?
A repeat of last year’s success will be hard to accomplish as many of the key players from South County’s state championship runner-up team have departed, but with veteran leadership from Burks, Foley and Basnight, the Stallions can realistically compete for a second consecutive Patriot District title.
Up Next: The Stallions travel to Hayfield on Friday for both teams’ season opener.