Coach: Jimbo Adams
2006 record: 13-1, 7-0
Offensive starters back: 8
Defensive starters back: 8
NORTON — Finding a silver lining is becoming harder and harder for J.I. Burton.
The Raiders, be it misfortune or otherwise, have fallen in the VHSL Group A, Division 1 championship game the past three years.
Though disappointing, it’s not something coach Jimbo Adams is shying away from.
“Obviously you can’t live in the past,” Adams said. “But if you can’t learn from failure, you’re doomed to repeat it as one great philosopher said.
“And we’ve repeated it quite a bit.”
Three runner-up finishes are certainly nothing to frown about — as Adams points out — but it’s painfully obvious this program is desperate for a title.
“You are who you are,” Adams said. “We’ve been state runner-up three years in a row. Are we satisfied with that? Absolutely not. But, at the same time, there’s a lot to be proud of.”
After last season’s hugely controversial loss to Riverheads — one in which the VHSL officially issued an apology for an officiating mistake that may have cost the Raiders the game — Burton has even more incentive to rectify the situation.
“Losing, especially the way we did last year, is a great learning aid,” Adams said. “We’ve not made excuses.
“Simply put: If we stop the buck sweep, we’re not in that position. That’s blunt, but it’s the truth.”
This year’s truth is this. The Raiders’ odds to capture their first state crown since 1972 look just as good as perhaps they ever have.
Senior Ethan Stewart is back under center, and brings an uncanny amount of experience. Stewart, a consensus pick for player of the year last season, has started 42 games — 28 at quarterback — already in his career.
“Ethan had a showcase game in Game 14,” said Adams, referring to the state title defeat. “Reality was, he was capable of that all year long.”
Stewart, whom Adams plans to run more this year, has plenty of help offensively. Jaymil Sensabaugh and Jaycob Coleman return to keep Burton’s famed jet sweep in motion. Each averaged more than 10 yards per touch during a season in which the Raiders scored 617 points.
All-Region D running back Josh Miles also returns. So do Will Godsey, Martinez Miles and Jacob Caudill.
The only concern could be the offensive line, which is relatively inexperienced.
Only Cody Collier (6-foot-1, 208 pounds), who will start at center, saw significant time a year ago.
“Certainly that’s one point of interest,” said Adams, referring to the offensive front. “Now we’ve got some good bodies and good prospects, but they’re untested.”
The Raider defense received little publicity last season — mainly because of how efficient the offense was — but Adams insists it was the “strength of the team.”
That could be the case again with Lonesome Pine District Defensive Back of the Year Godsey and LPD Co-Lineman of the Year Josh Miles back in the mix.
Adams claims the defense will be faster as a unit this year, with 11 starters running the 40 meters in under five seconds.
Godsey and Josh Miles will move in at linebacker this time around to accompany Skylar Peters.
Courtland Giles and Lamar Steele will split time at nose tackle, while Collier, Corey Freeman, Bo Brickey and Aaron Smith will vie for time at the ends.
Coleman has the inside track at strong safety, with Stewart in the free role.
Sensabaugh, Caleb Caudill, Devin Talley and Michael Hensley provide depth at corner for a defense that blocked a school- record 12 punts a season ago.