Eric Henderson reached the postseason in each of his first five years as head coach at Hayfield despite never working with a quarterback returning for his second varsity season.
In 2018, then-junior signal caller Chase Soper transferred from Lake Braddock to Hayfield just as practice was starting. A few weeks into the regular season, Soper took over the starting quarterback job and led the Hawks to a Gunston District championship and a playoff victory over Mount Vernon.
Now a senior, Soper, the 2018 Gunston District Offensive Player of the Year, returns as a college prospect with a year of playing in Henderson’s complex offensive system under his belt while no longer dealing with the pressures of attending a new school and playing for a new team.
Imagine the possibilities.
Soper and the Hawks travel to Woodbridge tonight to open the 2019 season at 7 p.m. against Freedom. The Freedom Hawks defeated Hayfield in the second round of the Region 6C playoffs last year and eventually finished state runner-up.
While Hayfield faces a difficult start to the season with games against Freedom, South County and Lake Braddock, Henderson is excited to coach a returning starter at quarterback for the first time since he worked with his son, Caleb Henderson, as a head coach at West Potomac (2011) and as an assistant at Lake Braddock (2013). Caleb Henderson went on to play Division I football at North Carolina and Maryland.
“We’ve had success (at Hayfield) but we haven’t had the growth (at quarterback) Chase went through,” Henderson said. “Along with that comes maturing and a knowledge of the offense and a greater command of himself.
“… It’s tough seeing that first-year senior carrying the trajectory upward. You’re going to hit some adversity and how are you going to handle that? You can’t tap into previous years because you don’t have any. … I’m not a guru, but it’s a complicated system.”
Henderson said Soper’s teammates accepted his arrival at Hayfield last season and were mostly concerned about whether he could help them win.
Soper completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,028 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2018, according to stats on maxpreps.com. He also rushed for 721 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“Everybody was pretty cool with it,” Henderson said. “The kids like him. It’s not like he’s an arrogant kid. He goes about his business. He acts like a quarterback. He has a swagger to him, … he has a commanding presence and the kids responded.”
Soper’s top receiving threat figures to be junior Scott Woods, who was a second-team all-district selection as a sophomore.
Henderson has compared Woods to former West Potomac standout De’Mornay Pierson-El, who was an All-American punt returner at Nebraska and has participated in training camp with multiple NFL teams, most recently the Oakland Raiders.
Henderson said he hopes Woods can be similar to Pierson-El in the sense that he opens things up for his teammates, as well.
“[Woods is] devastating in open space,” Henderson said. “… When De’Mornay was with me (2011), we were in a system with defined roles for him and we could create space for him and if there wasn’t space for him, someone else got the ball. … Scott is very complementary to his teammates, because if you want to double Scott, you leave someone open. … The hope is Scott has a breakout year.”
Seniors Mason Bonner, Jorge Bautista, Jonathan Ponce, and junior Cam Esparza are also threats at receiver, while seniors Nimesh Shrestha and Aaron Dorsey can catch passes at tight end.
Senior Naz Battle will be Hayfield’s primary option at running back.
Senior Nana Ankrah is a two-year starter and will anchor the offensive line at either guard or tackle.
Defensively, Henderson said the front seven will have to hold things down while an inexperienced secondary improves during the season.
Henderson said his goals for the season remain the same: win the district, get into the playoffs and win more playoff games than the previous year.
Whether the Hawks can accomplish those three tasks will rely heavily on the performance of their senior quarterback.
“(It will be) Chase carrying us until kids can develop,” Henderson said. “We’ve really expanded the playbook with him and we’re working hard to develop kids to give us alternatives rather than Chase left, Chase right.”
2019 Schedule (All games at 7 p.m.)
8/29: at Freedom 9/6: at South County 9/13 vs. Lake Braddock 9/20: at Robinson 9/27: vs.Yorktown 10/11: vs. Chantilly 10/18 at T.C. Williams (at the St. James Sports Complex) 10/25: vs. Mount Vernon 11/1: at Annandale 11/8: vs. West Potomac