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With the 2014 season just around the bend, we caught up with Oakton coach Jason Rowley to get his thoughts on how things might shake out around the area this year. Rowley enters his 19th season coaching at his alma mater, his fourth as head coach. The Cougars open at home against Woodson Friday.

Times: With state champion Centreville returning 15 starters and other teams looking strong, this season feels to me like it could be as competitive as ever in Conference 5. How do you see 2014 shaping up?

Rowley: To be honest I don’t think it’s much different than it is any year. I think every year in the Concorde you’ve got state championship contenders, and I don’t think this year is any different. Centreville returning as the defending state champs, I certainly think they’re the front runner. Westfield hasn’t lost a regular-season game in God knows how long. Chantilly is always up there in the mix. Robinson’s always good. And we try to keep our names relevant and get involved in that too. And it will be interesting to see what Herndon does with Jeremiah [Davis] there. So I think it’s as hard of a conference as there is in the state.

Q: How do you feel about Davis taking the helm at Herndon?

A: He was an awesome football player when he played at Annandale and Penn State, and he’s an even better person. He and I get along very well. I expect him to bring some excitement to Herndon with that fast-paced offense, similar to what he did at West Potomac I would suspect. He’s an excellent coach. So I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to play him again.

Q: Is Centreville the scariest team you’ve faced as a coach?

A: No, they’re not. I think they’re very good, unbelievably talented. They certainly earned the right to be considered the front runner out of the Northern Region area. But we’ve played some good teams from the beach. We’ve been in the state championship in 2002 and 2005, and in 2008 and 2012 we were in the state semifinals. So we’ve seen some talented teams, and I certainly rank them up there with all of them. We played in 2005 against Percy Harvin, and then 12 guys go to Division I from that team at Landstown. I think it remains to be seen how good [Centreville] can be, but I certainly rank them right up there with all those teams.

Q: What do you think it takes to beat a team like Centreville?

A: I think in general that in order to beat teams that are loaded with talent, you have to convince your players to believe in the system and believe in what you’re doing. That’s where we’ve had our best success in the past. We have certainly played some giants over the years at Oakton, and we’ve done so by just having our kids buy into what we’re trying to accomplish and believing that they can play with a team like that.

Q: Your Oakton team stumbled during its conference slate last season, but you guys have had success in the past with peaking at the right time of year. What’s the key to excelling down the stretch of a long season?

A: Your players have to believe. They have to trust that coaches are going to put them in a position to be successful. You have to convince them that they’re capable of doing things that they don’t think they can do, convincing them that they’re able to compete at a really high level regardless of their opponent. That’s one thing we always try to do at Oakton is talk not so much about our opponents but more about what we’re going to do and what we’re going to accomplish. We certainly game plan, but it’s more about how we execute.

Q: Do you see a dark horse in the region this year?

A: I think South Lakes might have a shot. I think they might be a dark horse. I’ve always thought they were talented, and with Trey [Taylor] there, he’s got a dynamic offense. He did great things at Woodson and was a good coach at Robinson. I think South Lakes is an interesting team, and I’m sure they’ll do a nice job over there.