Fork Union (0-0) at St. Michael Catholic (0-0), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: The first post-COVID football game is here and as would fit this situation, it’s an unconventional matchup between two schools that haven’t squared off and that have some pretty distinct differences. St. Michael is in its fourth year with a football program, winning the school’s first state championship in any sport with the VISAA DIII title it won last fall. Fork Union’s football history is long and distinguished, and took a step toward ending a few lean years at the prep level last year with a state playoff berth and a narrow loss in the VISAA Division I state semifinals. The Blue Devils and St. Michael are looking to get back on the field and square off against an opponent while trying to prove that it can be done safely at the high school level in Virginia in a pandemic environment. Fork Union has taken a number of steps to try and ensure that they’ll be ready, from masking up during practices to sterilizing the ball between reps. The Blue Devils have also made it clear that they’ll play a lot of different players in this opening clash, which feeds into their stated goal of helping players develop recruiting film and tape for college coaches, a challenge in this current environment as well. For example, Fork Union brings back a lot of key parts including quarterback Alex Williams, who had a strong season a year ago in leading the Blue Devils into the playoffs. They’ll also play Kieran Meyers at that spot. Returners like Greg Hyson at middle linebacker give Fork Union strong players to build around on defense and they’re boasting a deep, talented group of defensive backs and a number of new faces that have shown promise during camp like Cameron Wallace who’ll play at outside linebacker and tight end. Jackson Bolduc and Miles Mayfield will step in at corner while Kirko Kirko is slated to move into a spot at safety. Up front on defense, Marcus Billingsley, Stockwell Sullivan and Bilal Mitchell will be counted on early. The big football-related questions are how much an extended camp will help Fork Union’s chemistry with a lot of new additions and whether Williams and company can pick up where they left off a year ago in Mark Shuman’s second year? But Fork Union and St. Michael’s are actually looking to answer some larger questions here about what football looks like in a COVID-19 world. We’ll start getting some more answers Friday.
Who to Watch: Fork Union’s V’Jon Hampton. Hampton was an electric back for Fork Union last year and his work as a defensive back, mainly at safety, is perhaps underrated. No matter where Hampton plays, he’s a force. Hampton rushed for 1,122 yards and eight touchdowns while picking up All-Prep and All-VISAA honors. Hampton forces opposing defenses not only to account for his ability to run on every play, but his ability to catch it out of the backfield. That attention should open things up for a rebuilt Fork Union wideout corps that is missing top targets Montingo Moss and Elijiah Hawks from last season. If Hampton can pound things out on the ground, it’ll open things up for twins Dominik and Dominique Julius, Miles Mayfield and New Hampshire native Jackson Bolduc in the passing game.
Key Matchup: FUMA’s offensive line takes on the St. Michael’s front seven led by linebacker Shymarr Wright. Wright earned an All-Area nod last year from the Fredericksburg Freelance-Star with 86 tackles including 12 tackles for a loss at middle linebacker. The FUMA offensive line is built around returners Aaron Reese at center and Stockwell Sullivan at right guard and they’ll add a super athletic left tackle in Oliver Hall to the mix along with Matthew Jones and Dominiki Conte. If that group can find a way to keep Wright out of the backfield and open creases for Hampton, the Blue Devils will be able to get the ball moving, but that’s easier said than done.
The Line: Fork Union by 1. This should be a fun matchup between two of only a few teams playing in the state of Virginia.