By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
How do you replace one of the most dynamic quarterbacks Woodrow Wilson has ever seen?
That’s the question Flying Eagles head coach John H. Lilly had to answer when he lost Woodrow’s all-time leading passer Andrew Johnson to graduation.
He hopes that solution will be Johnson’s understudy in junior Brett Osborne.
“I think we’re a little offensively ahead that I thought we would be,” Lilly said. “Brent’s further along than I thought he would be. He’s throwing the ball way better than I thought he would be early in the year, coming out of baseball.”
Osborne, like Johnson, is a three-sport athlete who has tasted playoff success, but hasn’t been able get over the hump and bring a trophy home to the “City of Champions.”
The same could be said for Lilly’s last two Flying Eagle football squads, who have bowed out in the first round to eventual champion Martinsburg, losing 49-13 in 2011 and a 39-0 shutout in 2012.
“That’s our motto. ‘One more step,’” Lilly said. “We’re getting in the playoffs and we’re being consistent, but we got to take that one more step to get back to where we were a couple years ago in the early 2000s when we were going deep in the playoffs.”
Lilly added that the return of a patented “Big Beckley” offensive line will likely help his young quarterback navigate through a tough season.
“I think we’ve got a lot bigger. We’re going back to the big Beckley lines we’ve had over the years,” he added. “We have 6-foot-4, 300-pounders coming back. Our offense has been pretty explosive over the last two years. It’s going to be hard to be better. That’s a lofty goal, but I think we have potential to be just as good offensively as we’ve been the last three years.”
Since joining the MSAC over a decade ago, Woodrow has faced its share of challenges, mainly coming from an increase in travel and competition.
“We went undefeated in 2000, but we didn’t play in this conference,” Lilly said of the MSAC. “This is like the SEC in football; each week you’re playing a powerhouse. There’s no room for a letdown. You’ve got to have your ‘A’ game each and every week. That’s something we’ve had to learn and I think we’ve done a good job with it the last two years.”
While the MSAC schedule is demanding for the Flying Eagles, so is their non-conference schedule. In 2013, the Flying Eagles will play longtime rival Greenbrier East, as well as Oak Hill and Hedgesville.
It’s a load the 13-year Woodrow coach would like to see lightened in the coming years.
“Ya know, you’ve got to control your schedule,” Lilly said. “We’re trying to get away from five-hour road trips. We want more local teams on our schedule. When you’re playing Martinsburg and Morgantown, people kind of forget about you. You lose your natural rivals. In the next three years, I’d like to see more local teams.”
While Lilly lamented the long road trips for his squad, he refused to comment on the prospect of the Flying Eagles taking on second year Class AAA Shady Spring, which is only 11 miles from Woodrow. Shady will face a long bus trip of its own this season when it wraps up the season in Musselman.
Lilly previously coached the Tigers before taking over the Woodrow Wilson program from longtime coach Pete Culicerto, who retired in 1999. Conversely, Culicerto’s son Vince is now the head coach at Shady Spring.
“I’ll keep that opinion to myself,” Lilly said. “I think everyone knows the answer to that question. And the reason for that is we’ve got to focus on who we’re playing. You can’t get caught up in the ones you don’t play. Our goal right now is getting ready for Winfield. We’ll worry about that other stuff in March and April.”
The Flying Eagles will open the season on the road Friday, Aug. 30, against the Generals.
— E-mail: jrollins@
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