South County High School’s historic 2011 football season might be in the past, but it hasn’t been forgotten.
The Virginia High School Coaches Association recently selected Stallions’ coach Gerry Pannoni to serve as a head coach in Friday’s All-Star Game in Hampton, Va., where many of the state’s top prep players will get one last chance to display their skills before heading to college in the fall.
Pannoni will coach the West team, which includes three of his graduated seniors: offensive linemen Cody Smith and KaRon Powell and safety Nick Hicks.
A head coaching nomination for a game typically dominated by Tidewater players is a rare honor for someone representing the Northern Region. So when Pannoni got the phone call, he couldn’t say no.
“I don’t think a lot of guys from the Northern Region tend to get involved with this game, so I thought it would be good for the Northern Region,” Pannoni said. “I think there’s a perception that the Northern Region doesn’t really get a lot of credit from the rest of the state, and I thought this could be a way to help change that a little bit.”
After stepping away from high school football following his 2009 season at Centreville, where he coached for three years, Pannoni took control of the South County football program in July 2011. His team struggled to adapt to its new coach at first, dropping its first three games.
But they settled in soon enough, ripping off 11 straight wins to advance to the Division 5 state final against three-time defending champion Phoebus. Despite losing, 20-10, Pannoni had led South County further than it had ever been during the school’s six-year history.
Pannoni has coached various high schools around Fairfax for 32 years, so his methods and strategies are pretty nailed down. Still, Pannoni looks forward to coaching alongside five other top coaches from around the state, all of whom can provide fresh insights into his outlook on football.
“You take away whatever you can from the other coaches that you’re working with,” Pannoni said. “You’re always looking for new ways to do things and ways that might improve what you do. And with the special players in this game, you can look at them playing in college or whatever one day and you can say, ‘I knew that kid.’”
Smith, a 2011 first-team, all-state selection headed to Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the fall, is one of three South County all-star participants set to play football in college. Powell will be playing at Hampton University; Hicks at Erie Community College.
"For me it's a great honor. It's something I would never imagine doing. It's great to be here, playing against the best of the best,” Smith said. “It's been a lot of hard work to get here, and we're still working hard to compete with these kids that are great athletes that are going to be moving on and doing great things in college."
Notable players unable to attend the game include first-team, All-Met selection Devin Vandyke, a Virginia Tech-bound linebacker, and defensive back Andrew Rector, who is recovering from a baseball-related injury.
Other area players listed on the game’s roster include Herndon offensive tackle Eric Hensley, Wakefield quarterback Drew Powell and Lee wide receiver Kyon Taylor.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Darling Stadium.