The word ‘win’ connected to the Brentsville Tigers football team has been unfamiliar in recent years. Now, Head Coach Ryan Smith has the orange and black as the talk of the town heading into week six.
The Tigers (5-0) are off to their best start since Tom Hanks uttered the famous words: “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.’" A fitting sentiment for the surprise that has sprung out of Nokesville in 2015.
In 1994, Brentsville managed to start the season with seven straight victories under the late Mike Madison. The thought of it taking more than 20 years to approach that record again was implausible.
Current Head Football Coach Ryan Smith was just 10 years old at that time. He’s now led the Tigers to an undefeated start halfway through the regular season. With a win this weekend against the Fauquier Falcons (3-3), Brentsville will have their first winning season since 2002.
The road for Coach Smith began at Woodbridge High School in 2007. Serving as an assistant to both Keith King and his older brother, Kevin Smith, the Vikings managed a 48-21 record over six seasons.
Over that same time period, Brentsville struggled with just seven wins in 59 contests. The team was shrinking, as well as the interest amongst the community. When the head coaching position opened up, many would consider it far from a dream situation. Smith looked at it as an opportunity.
“At 29-years old, the opportunity to be successful and have a little bit of a gap there, for a school to let you develop your program, was key for me,” Smith said. “Brentsville was definitely the right fit, and I cherish every moment that I’m there.”
After a winless session during his opening campaign, Smith took to twitter in February of 2014. After winning just one game in five seasons, his claim could have been viewed as laughable.
“It was turning,” said Smith. “From the first year our mentality was to hang in there and not get blown out, and it picked up the second year going 2-8, and then this third year we felt we could really take off.”
After back-to-back victories to start 2014, including a 36-0 win over Warren County, the Tigers couldn’t find the win column the rest of the way. While the offense had it’s own problems, the defense allowed 42 points per game through the final eight games.
Fast-forward 10 months and Brentsville, well, just doesn’t look like Brentsville. Winning each of their first five games by an average of more than 20 points, and that same defense never allowing more than 14 points in a single game.
Defensive success in high school football begins in the trenches. The hard-nosed, low-stanced, willing to get dirty guys who fight for every inch. Brentsville has three student-athletes who have teamed up to be as good as anyone when it comes to the defensive line.
“The defensive front has been huge,” coach said. “We wouldn’t be 5-0 without them.”
Both Seth Rollins and Andrew Jenkins missed the 2014 season for different reasons. Rollins suffered a broken forearm but has come back and stepped into a leadership role in 2015. Meanwhile, Jenkins was academically ineligible one year ago. According to his coach, however, he worked tirelessly in the offseason to get back on the field and, perhaps more importantly, back into the books.
Donovan Hollins has come into the secondary and into an athletic role on the offensive side of the ball. Transferring from Patriot High School prior to this season, Hollins has fit into the Brentsville system as a play-maker.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked,” Coach Smith remarked. “He’s been a huge contributor. You can never ask for those types of kids to move in and it helps you.”
This team will face it’s biggest competition in the coming weeks. (The Tigers' schedule is located here.) Coach Smith is well aware of the toughness of his team’s schedule. Brentsville opponents, through the first five weeks, had a combined record of 3-24. With incoming 4A schools, Brentsville continues to lift three days a week and holds contact practices every day.
Fauquier is the next stepping stone to the playoffs. When was the last time Brentsville lost a game? Oct. 31, 2014. To whom? The Fauquier Falcons by a score of 35-0.
For now, as Coach Smith continues to build upon what he was told is a “five year project,” the Brentsville Tigers are anything but a joke.
Mike Ploger has spent the entirety of his life in Northern Virginia, with the exception of earning his Broadcast Journalism Degree from West Virginia University. He eats, breathes, and sleeps sports in the area unless he’s out riding his unicycle or playing a round of disc golf.