FOOTBALL RETURNS: Positional battles highlight Washington’s spring

Published 5:17 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Spring football is underway in Beaufort County. Washington has hit the gridiron once again, already hoping to avenge last year’s first round-playoff exit. The Pam Pack’s 10-session spring practice has been highlighted early on by a handful of interesting positional battles.

Among them is at the quarterback role where Frederick Holscher is dueling returning signal caller Tripp Barfield for starting duties. Barfield, a rising senior, gives the Pam Pack a rare sense of continuity as it enters the beginning of the preseason.

“This will be the first time in four or five years that we have a quarterback back,” head coach Sport Sawyer said. “We’re excited about that. … I want to see us throwing the ball this year. We’re losing pretty much the entire (offensive) line. We’ve got some athletes. The quarterbacks, I know, have a year under their belt. They’ve got good arms and they’re very good thinking.”

Sawyer added that receivers Sharwan Staton and Matt Black — both soon-to-be seniors — have excelled early in the spring. The new focus on the aerial offense seems promising should the two of them continue to emerge as top-notch targets for either Barfield or Holscher.

STANDING OUT: Sharwan Staton dodges a tackle during a game against North Johnston last season. He’s stood out thus far in the spring. A positional battle between quarterbacks Tripp Barfield and Frederick Holscher will determine who will be throwing him the ball come August.

Barfield led the Pam Pack’s varsity offense last season while Holscher, a rising junior, called the shots at the junior varsity level. Both players have skillsets that Sawyer finds valuable to the team.

“Frederick, with the (junior varsity) team last year, was very tough. He got hit a lot, but showed a lot of toughness,” Sawyer said. “He’s tough and I like that toughness in him.

“Tripp, it was his first year last year quarterbacking. He’s able to slow the game down after one year of reps. He’s looking good out there. He’s got a good arm. Both of them bring different things to the table.”

The idea is that a heated battle now in the spring and then into the summer can bring out the best in each quarterback.

“I like it in all positions because, if you’ve got someone behind you, you know that if you slip up, they’re going to take your spot,” Sawyer said. “You’re going to be on your P’s and Q’s, so to speak. I like that.”

That continuity isn’t found just among the quarterbacks. The defense returns a lot of last year’s core, especially in the secondary. All of the Pam Pack’s defensive backs from last year’s team will return this season.

“I feel like, last year, I spent most of (the spring) just teaching basic coverage fundamentals,” defensive coach Jon Blank said. “This year, we’re able to move into some of the advanced coverage techniques. We’ve got to knock off a little bit of rust.

“When you look back two years ago when we went to the state championship, the secondary we had had started for two or three years in each position. That was big for us because it allowed us to run a lot of different coverage combinations and get kind of sophisticated with our secondary.”

There are still positional battles taking place, despite having the entire secondary back this season. Blank said that he’ll have four cornerbacks that got significant playing time last year, so there will be battles going on at each of those positions.

Beyond that, it opens the door for Blank to run a more complex defense.

“I like to run more man coverage, so if some of them can move to strong safety or outside linebacker, that might be an ideal situation for us,” Blank said. “If not, it gives us an opportunity to put a dime package out there against some of the heavy throwing teams.”

Washington’s youth may have been exposed last season in the first round of the playoffs. However, between positional battles and all the returning key components, the Pam Pack is picking up this spring where it left off in December.