Football

Stuarts Draft seniors relishing success

STUARTS DRAFT – When Nathan Floyd took over the Stuarts Draft football program in 2014, he knew there was talent on the team. It might take time for that talent to translate to wins, but he was certain it would if everyone was just patient.

Stuarts Draft's Izzy Johnson (33) and John Gumann are two of the seniors hoping to celebrate a state championship this season.

Stuarts Draft’s Izzy Johnson (33) and John Gumann are two of the seniors hoping to celebrate a state championship this season.

He was right. That first season under the new coach was a struggle at times, with the Cougars finishing 3-7, but by year two Floyd had Stuarts Draft back in the playoffs. Draft beat King William before losing to a very good Buffalo Gap team.

Year three? Well, not only is Stuarts Draft in the playoffs for a second straight season, but it is in the state semifinals and, so far, hasn’t lost to anyone. That’s 13 games, 13 wins for the Cougars with Richlands up next.
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That talented group of players, including several seniors who have been on the varsity team for four years, has translated into wins, and lots of them.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said senior quarterback Garrett Campbell. “I’ve played with these guys my whole life. It’s just been a lot of fun to go out and do what we’ve always wanted to do and make a run at the state championship.”

Stuarts Draft quarterback Garrett Campbell is hoping to lead his team past Richlands Saturday in the Group 2A state semifinals.

Stuarts Draft quarterback Garrett Campbell is hoping to lead his team past Richlands Saturday in the Group 2A state semifinals.

Sitting in the Stuarts Draft weight room Wednesday night after practice, five of the seniors — Campbell, Izzy Johnson, Bryce Carter, John Gumann and Dylan Lehmann — reflected on what, for most of them, will be their final season playing football. And if it is the final time some of them play, doing so in the state playoffs is not a bad way to go out.

The five have been together since they played midget football on the same team. That’s a decade or so as teammates and friends.

“We’re brothers,” Johnson said. “We love each other.”

Stuarts Draft outguns East Rockingham

To Lehmann that closeness means one thing — trust. He knows his teammates have his back just like he has theirs on and off the field.

Carter said that every player on every high school team that starts practice in the summer is thinking, at least somewhere in the back of their mind, about winning a state title. But it wasn’t as if this group of Cougars talked about that goal every day. They simply went about their business without focusing too far in the future.

“We did a great job of keeping our head on,” Carter said. “One practice at a time, one day at a time, one game at a time.”

Still, the loss to Gap last season that ended the Cougars’ playoff run stuck with them throughout the offseason. It was one game at a time looking forward, but that one game in the past ignited a desire in the players this season. Gumann said that night, after the loss, players were already talking about how it would be different next year.

“We worked really hard after that loss,” Johnson said. “Like Garrett said, it burned in us.”

Stuarts Draft's Izzy Johnson (33) is one of several seniors hoping to end their high school football careers by making history as the Cougars seek their first ever appearance in a state championship game.

Stuarts Draft’s Izzy Johnson (33) is one of several seniors hoping to end their high school football careers by making history as the Cougars seek their first ever appearance in a state championship game.

Just getting in the playoffs last year was a huge boost to the team this year, according to Gumann. Understanding what playoff football was like helped prepare them for a deep run this season.

“That experience probably helped us get better for this year,” Gumann said.

And while the Cougars did try to treat each game equally, it’s tough to ignore that winning the 10th game on the schedule was huge. Stuarts Draft broke a five-game losing streak to Riverheads with a 16-13 win in overtime. And while both teams are still standing in the playoffs — Stuarts Draft in Group 2A and Riverheads in Group 1A — the Cougars can take a little extra pride no matter what happens the rest of the way because they came out on top when the two teams played this year.

“Nobody believed in us that we could beat Riverheads,” Johnson said. “We came out there and beat them and showed everybody what we can do.”

The Cougars know that Richlands will be a tough opponent on Saturday afternoon. It helps that Draft gets them at home. But win or lose, this has been a season to remember, the best season since 1995 for Stuarts Draft football.

“These have been my best friends since we were eight years old,” Gumann said. “To go out like this our senior year, it means the world to us.”

Stuarts Draft's Dylan Lehmann (25) will be counted on heavily Saturday afternoon as the Cougars face Richlands in the 2A state semifinals.

Stuarts Draft’s Dylan Lehmann (25) will be counted on heavily Saturday afternoon as the Cougars face Richlands in the 2A state semifinals.

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