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George Washington looks to fill holes left by graduation

By Rick Ryan, Assistant Sports Editor

Over the past few years, George Washington has built a fairly impressive program, making the Class AAA playoffs seven straight times and twice playing in the Super Six state finals.

Well, the Patriots may have to put all that building to the test this season, as they attempt to replace many vital parts from last year’s team that reached the playoff quarterfinals.

Gone are a pair of productive running backs in Draven Riffe and Jacob Jackson, the team’s top tackler in linebacker Zach Malone and also starting quarterback Jon Alexander and No. 1 receiver Austin Giacomo.

Seldom in recent years has GW been faced with such a makeover — even all that program building doesn’t preclude an occasional team rebuilding.

“I’d like to think we lost a lot of stats,’’ said Patriots coach Steve Edwards Jr. “It’s the first time in a long time we don’t have a lot of stats and some recognizable names coming back. We’ve got a lot of guys who have been around some on Friday nights, but they haven’t been in Friday nights.

“That being said, they’ve been in the program here and have been working and it’s their turn to shine. As a coach, you’re always looking for that experience to return, but you’re also looking to give kids an opportunity to shine. They’re working hard, and I’m excited about the prospect.’’

Certainly, the loss of Riffe and Jackson will hamper GW as it works its way through preseason drills that began Monday morning. Riffe (1,699 yards, 21 touchdowns) and Jackson (1,275 yards, 15 TDs) combined to run for nearly 3,000 yards and 36 scores last season.

But the Patriots do return four starters from their reliable offensive line, led by David Smith and Trevor Wooten. Fullback Mason Blake (443 yards, two TDs) is back, too, as are receiver Darnell Brooks and tight end Luther Toney.

On defense, the linemen are experienced, Blake mans his familiar linebacker spot and Colten Rollyson returns at free safety.

“It’s a challenging time for us right now,’’ Edwards said, “for all the kids, and it’s good. I think that they’ve worked hard enough, and in their minds they can take hold of some of the standards that have been set here. They know the importance of it.’’

Besides its run of seven straight postseason appearances, GW has made the playoffs 13 times over the previous 15 years.

“Our kids know the bar’s been set,’’ Edwards said, “and it’s been set pretty high by the teams before them, the classes before them. You tell each class that you want to leave a mark that the other kids can continue or build on, to grasp and take hold of. That’s where we are right now.

“We had a talk [Monday]. We talked about all that a little bit [before practice]. Especially with the seniors — it’s their last time around, it’s their day. Everything they do from this time, it’s their last day [doing it]. You tell them the other classes left this for you to continue, and you certainly don’t want to be that guy [who fouls it up].’’

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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