By Jackie Howell
Viva Loudoun Intern
Ashburn (Nov. 1, 2013) – It’s a well-known fact that the Stone Bridge High School football team (6-2) has a stellar starting lineup on both offense and defense. But what many fans might not know is that more than half of the Bulldog starters are sophomores and juniors.
Quarterback Joe Thompson and offensive guard Andrew Vastardis represent the sophomore starters while tight end Tanner Karafa, defensive tackles Tony Gallegos, Aaron Crawford, defensive end Jimmy Prohaska, linebackers Collin Buckley, Calvin Strahin, Theo Patterson, Corey Wells, safety Michael Kuzbel, and defensive back Chance Frye all represent the junior class. That makes 12 of 22 starters non-seniors, including 9 of 11 on defense.
All of these players have learned from watching their predecessors on the sidelines and have put in the hard work and dedication in the offseason to be out on the field. The players have earned their time to shine.
“All the hard work put in on the off season paid off, I’m ready to start,” Patterson said.
For many of the players, this season is their first time showcasing their talents on the field under the Friday night lights.
“The best part is seeing the crowd when you go out, seeing your peers and friends is too much fun,” Wells said.
Although some players such as Thompson, Varstardis, and Gallegos have had the rare honor to start as sophomores; many of the players had to show their skills and leadership on the JV squad in order to make their way up to varsity.
“I knew I was starting the next year because I started on JV and worked hard,” Strahin said.
Many of the starters look up to their senior teammates who they watched from the sidelines; and others have brothers and cousins to serve as role models both on and off the field.
“I learned from Zach to always be confident and play confidently and from Patrick quarterback skills.” Thompson said of his older brothers who played for Stone Bridge and now play at Wake Forest.
Strahin also had a brother who was a Bulldog starter and Patterson plays with his cousin, senior running back Sterling Dailey.
“It feels good to follow in my brother’s footsteps,” Strahin said
Many of the starters have learned tips and advice by sharing the field with such recent grads as Ryan Burns and Gabe Stewardson and current seniors James Manning and Tylon Lynch.
“Gabe (Stewardson) told me, ‘It’s my time … next year’,” Crawford said. “He told me to take leadership and give back to the team.”
The younger Bulldogs are challenged to step up their game when taking the field with more experienced teammates.
“Playing with extremely talented kids like Tylon and Sterling forces me to up my game and play my best every Friday,” Wells said.
Graduated players, such as Ryan Burns now at Stanford, are gone but not forgotten.
“Watching Ryan (Burns) immensely helped me as a quarterback because he was perfect in what he did, I really look up to him,” Thompson said.
Although starting is an exciting opportunity, it is also a responsibility. Now the players have to become the role models they once looked up to.
“I learned from last year’s starters that great leadership is taught when everyone steps up and plays their hardest for the team,” Buckley said.
Despite the pressures and responsibilities, the sophomores and juniors wouldn’t trade their opportunity under the Friday Night Lights.
“Starting this year is helpful because you get more experience out there,” Kuzbel said. “Plan to compete every day and you learn and get better.”
Jackie Howell is a senior at Stone Bridge High School