CLASS 1, REGION D, HOGOHEEGEE DISTRICT
Head Coach: Jeff Robinson (6th season, 30-28)
2017 results: 11-4 (VHSL 1A Runner-Up)
Key losses: OL Bradley Parris, CB Raul Ramirez, P/H Nick Cardwell
Key returners: RB/SS/K Greg Sanchez, QB/FS Zack Cale, OL Jason Amaro, LB Logan Branson, DL Alex Adams, DE Jarred Johnson.
2017 was a season to remember for Head Coach Jeff Robinson and the Chilhowie Warriors.
The Chilhowie Warriors had to overcome adversity after starting 2017 with a 3-3 record.
They overcame it, alright.
The Warriors rode an eight-game winning streak all the way to Salem for a berth in the VHSL 1A championship game.
“After having some problems staying healthy in the first half of the season,” said Robinson, who is in entering his sixth season as Chilhowie’s head coach. “Once we got everyone back everything started to click in the second half and we went on an eight-game winning streak.”
Unfortunately, the state championship didn’t go as planned for the Smyth County contingents. The Warriors ran into the perennial 1A powerhouse, the Riverheads Gladiators, on their way to a 42-0 defeat.
Although you never want to be on the wrong end of such a lopsided score, the experience that Robinson’s team gained should prove invaluable for the 2018 season. The Warriors, who return ten starters on both sides of the ball, are one of the most experienced teams in the state.
“This year’s senior class has just about as much game experience as could be expected. Many of them have started since they were freshmen and have played in seven playoff games,” said Robinson, who as also served as Chilhowie’s baseball coach since 2002. “For four of our seniors, the season opening game against Marion will be their 38th start of their career. We also return the Region D Offensive (Greg Sanchez) and Defensive (Logan Branson) Players of the Year; as well as seven players who earned VHSL Class 1 All-State recognition last season.”
With the experience Robinson returns, it will limit his use of players on both sides of the pigskin.
“We will have very few two-way players,” said Robinson. “Many key positions have quality back-ups that will be used on a rotational basis to keep players as fresh and healthy as possible.”
After an eleven-win season, Coach Robinson and his tenured juniors knew just what needed to be done to continue that level of success.
They used the offseason to do what the great teams do; they went to work.
“We had a tremendous turnout for summer workouts and 7-on-7s. That same level of commitment has carried over into preseason practices,” said Robinson. “Optimism, the excitement level and expectations are extremely high as we enter the 2018 football season.”
As they should be.
Luckily for the Warriors, offensive lineman Bradley Parris was the only departure due to graduation. The offense will be led by the reigning Region D Player of the Year, Greg Sanchez. who has rushed for over 3,600 yards in his prep career. Sanchez went above and beyond during his junior campaign, as he amassed 1,710 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2017. Rugged fullback Logan Branson will pack a punch as a blocker and grind out yards as a ball carrier. Expect slots Will Russell and Anthony Blevins to receive their share of touches as well. Blevins, a multi-talented athlete, also rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, while adding 17 touchdowns. Senior Zack Cale will be the signal-caller. His playmaking ability led to a first team all-state selection as a junior, after accounting for over 1,800 yards & 20 touchdowns.
Coach Robinson has faith in Cale’s receiving core.
“The receiver positions will be manned by a pair of juniors in Lucas Doss and Malachi Thomas,” said the Warriors head coach. “Our tight ends, seniors Trevor Williams and Jake Kegley give us two big targets across the middle.”
The Warrior defense also returns 10 starters, with only cornerback Raul Ramirez moving on due to graduation. Coach Robinson is excited about his ever-improving defense, which returns Logan Branson, the Region D Defensive Player of the Year.
“Our defense has made dramatic improvements over the last three years. We only allowed one 100-yard rusher over the first 13 games last season,” said Robinson, who served as Chilhowie’s defensive coordinator from 1998-2012. “We will be bigger, faster, and stronger this season.”
The defense proved that, as the starters played the highly touted Ridgeview Wolfpack, led by Division 1 prospect Trenton Adkins, to almost an even draw.
Coach Robinson knows his defense could be the key to early season success for the Warriors.
“We play three quality, playoff-level opponents in the first month of the season in Marion, J.I. Burton, and George Wythe. We will have to be able to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders to compete with those teams,” stated Robinson. “We play Virginia High in game six, which should be one of our toughest opponents. Avenging our three regular season losses from a year ago (Marion, George Wythe, & Virginia High), is one of our main team goals this year.”
Those three regular season losses helped Chilhowie to fly under the radar for the better part of last season, before eventually upsetting top ranked Galax in the state semi-final. After finishing as the VHSL 1A runner-up, Coach Robinson knows that his team won’t be viewed as underdogs this season.
“We fully realize that we are going to have a huge bulls-eye on our backs as we enter this season. We have talked a lot as a team about handling the preseason hype and remaining humble and hungry throughout the season,” said Robinson. “So far, I feel like our team has done that. I sense no feeling of entitlement with this team nor do I feel like they are taking anything for granted.”
While the road to Salem is a long one, Robinson knows his Warriors will scrap with anyone.
“Getting back to the finals is far from guaranteed,” said Robinson. “If our work ethic and attitude is any indication of what we can expect from this group this season, I’ll like our chances to compete with anyone on our schedule.”
The Chilhowie Warriors open the season on the road Friday, August, 24th, against in-county rival Marion.
I was raised in beautiful Abb’s Valley, Virginia.
Unfortunately, I went down with the ship as a Pocahontas Indian. I spent my last year as a Tazewell Bulldog. I moved away for a time and became a resident of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama (Roll Tide), but I eventually had to move back to the mountains of SWVA and assume the position of ambassador of Falls Mills, VA.