RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It is never easy taking over a football program where football is secondary to the challenges the kids face in their everyday lives. That’s the challenge Redd Thompson faces in his third season as head coach of the John Marshall Justices. The Highland Springs graduate sees himself as a kind of football and life counselor. Football is secondary. Even so, Thompson knows the game can be a tool to teach kids discipline, help them to college, and possibly even help them feed their families in the distant future. In 2015, Thompson says the team took a step forward physically but a step back mentally, lacking the ability to close out games in which they were leading. It happened against Douglas Freeman, Glen Allen, and Thomas Jefferson. The Justices return three starters on each side of the ball and will look to freshmen and sophomores to fill the void. Although Thompson sees himself as a life counselor, he’s also a competitor, and he wants to win.
The Manchester Lancers will compete for sure. Head Coach Tom Hall is back for his 18th season in charge of the program, and he returns almost that many starters. 17 Lancers are back from a team that made the 6A state playoffs before bowing out to rival Cosby. Starting running back Frank Boyd returns as do four of the five starting offensive linemen from 2015. Quarterback Brendon Clark started as a freshman in 2015 before tearing the ACL in his right knee. He’s mostly healthy now, and he’ll start again as a sophomore. On defense, Elijah Connor will be a four-year starter at safety, and he’ll have senior linebacker Gaven Corker and junior Johnathan Rose in front of him. Zayin West anchors the defensive line after an All-State season in 2015. Barring injury, the Lancers should be the top 6A team in the area and a return to the playoffs is the baseline expectation.