By Jerry Reid
Invited to Monticello’s turf for the first of some upcoming backyard rivalry games, the Warriors proved to be ungrateful guests. With quarterback Sam Hearn stepping up to shoulder the injury absences of running back-receiver Oliver Herndon and 2014 top performer Henry Kreienbaum, the Warriors rolled to a 28-7 shutdown victory last Thursday night. Hearn passed for 131 yards, completing seven of 10 throws, and chewed up the turf for 165 hard-earned rushing yards. Western’s record moved to 3-1, 1-0 in district play. The Warriors travel to Powhatan this Friday night.
But Hearn isn’t the whole story. Wide receiver and tight end Michael Vale and wide receiver and running back Derek Domecq both caught a touchdown pass and they look hungry to see more balls heading their way. This duo, along with Herndon flashing out of the backfield for key catches when not pouncing on open holes to run through, accounts for the majority of Warriors’ receptions and yards gained. The offensive line is moving people out of the way and protecting the pass. The defense is moving closer to being lights-out for opponents.
A key to all of this is a well-versed staff teaching the real world to their student athletes. Herndon, Domecq and Vale all appreciate the mental and physical toughness it takes to play this rough game. Being successful at it requires more than the players’ personal needs. Absolutely needed is the ability to grab another gear when someone goes down to injury, or for any reason, standing up for teammates and filling the gap. All three have had a taste of that this year, and they’ve done the job. Herndon will return for the Powhatan game.
Speaking to the stand-up work of Domecq and Vale, Herndon said, “It’s really exciting; both of them have really grown since last year. Mike—he’s already gotten three times as many catches as last year. And Derek, he’s just grown beyond his years.”
Moving into the rest of the season, he is bullish on the newfound capabilities. “It’s going to be exciting because now we know we have more than just a couple of weapons and I think we’re going to stay hungry and try to get after it as much as we can.”
Another factor might be a game-changer, also. Coach Redmond has moved to a 22-man roster configuration, which will eliminate, in most cases, playing both ways. Designating starting offense and defense could eliminate wear and tear, leaving both units more rested from a practice and game standpoint. “Playing one side just leaves you a lot fresher,” Herndon said. “It’s been working so far. You’re a lot more focused overall, and you just have to focus on one aspect of the game.”
There is life, and there is football. Both teach lessons that sports participants can use, particularly in high school. When asked what he gets now and will take away from his schooling and competitive life in Coach Redmond’s program, he said, “Work hard for what you want. His big thing is toughness in the grind. We all take a liking to that.”
Herndon likes the idea of football after high school; a senior now, he is looking for what may fit him. Washington & Lee is one possibility mentioned because “I want to pursue medicine and that’s a good place to start; I want to do surgery like my Dad (Tony Herndon, U.Va. urologist) is doing. He has overcome a lot of things, had a real tough life and he’s come a long way,” Herndon stated softly.
Derek Domecq has a major set of baseball skills, and he is no slouch at football either. Picking up the pace last Friday when someone was missing was easy for him. “It was very much a team win. I think our whole team is stacked to where we can play other positions. We don’t need just one player for this team. We aren’t a team that goes three and seven one year and 10 and one the next. We can consistently win on a daily basis because of that,” he said.
“It was also a good thing knowing that as a receiving corps we could get touchdowns and do other things while missing key people such as Henry and Oliver. And it’s also nice to know that we have a lot of help coming in because we have about eight guys coming back from the injured list,” he stated.
A sophomore, Domecq feels that he is still a work in progress. “I learn a lot from our coaches, see where my strengths and weaknesses are, and get to learn from great players like Michael, Sam, Oliver and Henry.” He has that to be thankful for, and he is not yet thinking of his post-high school life. Feel free to bet that this dynamic young man will find a place to use his skills at the next level.
The Big Man on Campus, 6’3” Michael Vale, is an imposing figure at 210 pounds. He’s slotted as a wide receiver or he will slide down the line to the tight end slot. He looks bigger than that, and he is playing big this year with multiple touchdowns, some of them showing his speed down the sidelines. “One of our team mottos has always been ‘next guy up,’ and if a man goes down, the next guy has got to go in and execute,” said Vale, adding “just being able to do that—it’s a great feeling and you know if one guy can do that, then probably the next guy will be able to. We’ve got so many people who can step up and be leaders, and that’s what makes a great team.”
As part of a proud band of receivers, Vale has the feeling that he is going to play a bigger role, in part because his size and strength overwhelm most defensive players. “The biggest part of our offense is obviously the running game; we run more than anything else, but teams who bring too much to the box will open up receiving lanes and we’ll get more looks because of that.” Vale said all of the receivers are happy to lay down a great block so Herndon or Hearn can run to open field. He also has a fond feeling for the one-way playing now in place for the Warriors, and said he won’t miss being on the defensive side.
A senior, his plans are firmly planted in academics, and he doesn’t see a way to playing football in college except at the Intramural or Club level. “I’m a little bit of a nerd,” he said with a smile. “I really like Spanish—not too bad at science, either—I think I’ll go to a four-year university and relax away from football. I’m looking for an education.”
His memories of this time of life will be strong, though. The bonds formed on a football team are deep and strong. “It’s been very special. I think this team is different from any other one out there. We are so close as friends and guys, it’s just a brotherhood that’s been formed through all we do. It is a special connection that I’ve never felt anywhere else. I can’t really say enough about Coach Redmond. He’s an awesome guy.”