FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Central Lunenburg Chargers keep building

Published 4:29 pm Saturday, August 26, 2023

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A proud program with four state titles in its history – 1980, 1986, 1987 and 1992 – the Central Lunenburg Chargers are gearing up for another quest to get to the top. The squad is fresh off its first unbeaten regular season since 1995, though veteran coach Will Thomas knows there are quite a few holes to fill from the 11-1 team that dominated the James River District before falling to eventual State Champion Riverheads by a count of 42-13 in the Region 1B Championship.

“We’re going to need some J.V. kids from last year who are sophomores to step up. Our defense was very solid last year. It didn’t show against Riverheads, but every other game they played really well,” commented Thomas, embarking on his 16th season at the helm.

“We lost probably about 75% of our rushing output last year, but we do have a good group coming on the offensive line. Those guys have been playing forever and are seniors. They’ve got a little bit of size.”

Hunter Word, a four-year starter at center who measures in at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds and earned Second Team All-Region honors a season ago, anchors the o-line.

“It’s good to have him. He’s a good, reliable player and a tough kid,” Thomas noted.

Word is joined in the trenches by fellow seniors in Collin Burke (6-5, 275) and Hayden Gary (6-1, 215).

There’s also experience at the quarterback position in senior Connor Mattox, who besides earning Second Team All-Region accolades at defensive back last year, proved to be a prudent decision maker with the football in completing 59% of his passes for 334 yards and 10 touchdowns compared to just one interception during the regular season.

Thomas also likes his ability to escape out of the pocket and make plays.

“To be 215 pounds, he’s got some wheels,” pointed out Thomas of his field general who ran an 11.30 in the State Championship 100 meters in track. “We’re going to have to depend on his legs this year because he’s big, strong and fast.”

Others that will be counted on for rushing production include junior Amarion Moore and senior Thomias Morrison, an All-Region First Team selection as a kick returner. Morrison scored a key touchdown in their 15-14 playoff win over Buffalo Gap last November.

“He’s a small guy, but he’s pretty quick,” said Thomas, adding that Tony Jones will also see time at halfback in addition to lining up on defense.

Perhaps the biggest graduation loss is that of Jamel Alexander, one of the eight defensive starters that must be replaced. A stalwart at defensive end and tight end, Alexander was tabbed the James River District Defensive Player of the Year in 2022.

Thomas will turn to a couple of First Team All-JRD performers in Mattox and Seth Bishop, who racked up 56 tackles and four interceptions through the first 10 contests last year, to be the cornerstones of the defense for 2023.

“Both of them started as freshmen on a team that lost in the regional finals to Riverheads,” stated Thomas.

While the Chargers prepare for their season opener at home on Aug. 25 against Altavista, there is plenty to get adapted to that’s new. One of the biggest adjustments is a new classification and region.

Lunenburg moves up from Class 1 to Class 2 in the VHSL’s six-division format and will compete in Region A, where three schools – Bruton, King William and Poquoson – have made it to the State Championship game since 2009.

Riverheads, meanwhile, also moves up to Class 2 after winning seven consecutive state titles, yet will compete in Region B. That means the Chargers or anyone else in Region A would not see them in the postseason until the semifinal round of the State Playoffs.

“Out of the fire and into the frying pan,” Thomas remarked. “You don’t have to play the red team, but man, you’ve still got some historic programs with King William, Poquoson and a lot of teams from our district.”

Going further than last year’s team and capturing a regional crown certainly is one of the goals for the seniors in their final chapter.

“That would be something we haven’t done in a long time. It would be great and a feather in our cap,” Thomas acknowledged. “But we’re going to have to work.”

To read the entire 2023 High School Football Preview click here.