With an experienced quarterback, a former Redskin directing the offensive line and fierce running game in the works, the Oakton High School football team is on pace to have a balanced offense that can adapt to a variety of defenses.
The Oakton Cougars, who posted an 8-2 regular season last year and ended their season after the first round of playoffs, are aiming for a state championship run this fall with a one-game-at-a-time attitude.
Starting quarterback Kyle Downer split time with Tuck Masker '12 last year, so he enters the season tested and more confident after developing his game in the offseason. Having also played tight end and in the slot, Downer's opponents know of his skills in open space — skills that landed him on the All-Concorde District Second Team.
"People don't realize how good a passer he is. He has really honed his game in the offseason," said Coach Jason Rowley, who is in his second year as head coach and 16th on the Oakton coaching staff. "I think you're going to see a true dual-threat quarterback playing for us."
Senior Mike Wandey, also a pick for All-District's second team last season, said he and fellow runningbacks are poised to lead the offense whenever game strategy calls for their skills. Wandey and Downey, as well as Kelly Brooks-Muse and Andy Boone, plan to be a force to be reckoned with as they seek redemption for last season's two district losses to Centreville and Westfield.
Wandey also said new offensive line coach Derek Smith, who played for both Virginia Tech and was a fifth round draft pick for the Washington Redskins, brings an enthusiasm to the team he thinks will have a positive effect on the entire offense.
"He's new here but I feel like day one he was already part of the family," Wandey said. "The thing I like about him is he's passionate about the game and excited to coach. I think that's awesome. I really appreciate that out of him."
With so many things clicking for the offense before the start of the season, Rowley believes he will have a balanced offense that provides options for their game strategy week after week.
"Our offense is tailored so we can be a pound-it-in-the-box type of team or we can spread it out and deliver it out on the edges, too," Rowley said. "We're going to be a little bit more multiple, in the gun a little bit still like we were last year and under center a lot. One week we might be under center 80 percent of the time, the next we might be in the gun 80 percent of the time. We'll tailor our offense to what we think we can take from defenses."
Though graduation dealt its biggest blow to the Cougar defense, the younger players are already showing promise to be just as formidable, with Joe Cellini, Joe Allely and Ben Utley standing out so far, a week from the start of the regular season.
Plus, the team's overall "cool" demeanor this year will help them make whatever adjustments are necessary to improve, Rowley said.
"They have a very cool demeanor. They're even-keeled. They don't get rattled very easily. They take things as they come, and we like that," Rowley said. "Football is not an emotional sport. It's a sport of enthusiasm as opposed to emotion. These guys always have their emotions in check. You never see them get too high or too low, but they're playing with enthusiasm and that's what we want to see."
The ultimate goal is to win states, a feat Oakton last accomplished in 2005. But their run for the title starts with the traditional opening game: the Outback Bowl against crosstown rival Madison High at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31 on the Warhawks' turf.
"I think we've got a chance of winning every game, each week," Downer said. "We might not be in the best form yet, but it's preseason. We will be ready."