Three class of 2022 all-region players explain how they’re balancing future endeavors with finishing high school football strong
In the shortened high school football season this past spring, 15 of the 22 Class 6, Region D first-team all-region players — made up of the Concorde and Liberty districts plus Wakefield — were seniors. The other seven are presented with an unprecedented predicament: not only are they returning to high school, but they’re playing two high school seasons within a calendar year — the latter being played while having to balance the individual interest of playing football at the next level with leading high school teams that are counting on them more than ever.
The common denominator of at least three of them, however — helping their high school teams win is priority number one, while individual accolades and college football dreams are currently at the wayside.
“All that other stuff will come,” Centreville rising senior offensive guard Damari Somers said.
Somers, a 6’2” 270-pound offensive guard, describes his play style as aggressive, and that even if he makes a mistake, it’s going to be at 100 percent. During practice, however, Somers has a lighter side — he said he calls himself the “practice hero” because sometimes even if he knows the play the offense is running, he’ll mess it up to be funny.
The full-throttle minded lineman said he almost didn’t play football this year because of his parent’s apprehension about the pandemic. It took convincing from his coaches and fellow teammates to get him onto the gridiron, but because of it, he said he has a newfound vision for his senior year.
Somers said that vision involves being more of a team-first player, taking to heart the importance of “brotherhood” and making sure to play for the team and not just himself, which he said Centreville varsity Head Coach Jon Shields is emphasizing going into the fall.
It’s coaches like Shields that Somers said are “unbelievable” at Centreville. Somers has been playing football since second grade — many of those years with Centreville’s current freshman football Head Coach Cliff Epperson when he was coaching youth football for SYA (Southwestern Youth Association). These ties at Centreville has strengthened player-coach bonds, exemplified by the 12 class of 2021 Wildcat seniors that are going to be playing Division II, III or Junior College (JUCO) football this fall despite the recruiting hurdles COVID-19 caused.
“Coach Shields [and I are] tight,” Somers said. “I talk to him on and off the field — he just has a tunnel vision of winning, and I like that.”
Two fellow class of 2022 first-team all-region players that are likewise tight, but instead sport black and red for rival Madison High School are running back Alex Jreige and linebacker Ryan Salvosa. The two also started on varsity together as sophomores — Salvosa making the all-region team as a defensive lineman that season — and have a “common respect” for each other, Salvosa said.
“Iron sharpens iron,” Salvosa said. “I feel like me and him just make each other better every day in practice.”
Jreige described Salvosa as the “vocal leader” of the Warhark defense despite being an underclassman this spring. Salvosa, however, said during his sophomore year he “didn’t say a word” — his leadership was birthed this spring when he noticed that a few games into the season, heads were turning to him for direction on defense.
“When it comes down to it,” Salvosa said, “someone’s got to step up.”
Salvosa said his on-the-field, vocal demeanor is polar opposite from his off-the-field persona. He said that’s because he’s not going to take the opponent on the field home to visit his family and friends.
“Our coach [Justin Counts] always says, ‘You’ve got to have an alter-ego,’” Savlosa said. “A lot of stuff I say [on the field], I would never say to my family because I love them a lot — so, there’s that.”
Madison finished the abbreviated spring regular season 6-0 and fell in the Class 6 State Semifinal game to South County, 29-22. It was a season of firsts for the Warhawks — since joining in 2017, the team won the Concorde District for the first time, and also made it to the state semis for the first time since 2003.
Salvosa said that having the longer offseason actually helped Madison because many players were 10 pounds heavier and a step faster than they would’ve been six months prior in fall 2020. He said this helped him learn how important preparation is for success.
Jreige said he had a good feeling about how well the team meshed with each other going into the spring. This is part of the reason, he said, that he didn’t take anything lightly this year, even during the shortened season — he said he wasn’t going to the let the pandemic and subsequent short offseason stop him from going “balls to the wall” during his junior year.
“It was kind of the year I looked at since my freshman year because the grade above me and my grade complemented each other perfectly,” Jreige said. “My grade has a bunch of skill guys — running backs, receivers, quarterbacks, DB’s — and then the grade above us had a huge, great, strong O-line and a good D-line.”
While some could say Madison had a “lucky year” last spring and will fall back to earth this fall after losing seniors on both fronts, Salvosa said, the team is “coming back hungry” and wants “revenge” after what the Stallions did on the late-Saturday afternoon April 24, he said. Emphasis on what happened after the final whistle.
“We ended [our season] on a sour taste,” Salvosa said. “South County put their flag on our logo.”
Before the adversary’s celebration, the cliché “game of inches” was illuminated — Salvosa said a 14-point swing cost them the game, and said Madison’s lack of being able to “finish” on both offense and defense was a culprit for the swing.
Toward the end of the first half, Madison had South County backed up on their own 5-yard line, and a third-down pass was broken up. Instead of having to punt, a Warhawk roughing the passer penalty extended the drive, which was the spark needed for a Stallion touchdown later that drive. In the second half, an interception thrown by South County set up Madison deep in plus territory, but South County made a fourth-and-one stop and scored another touchdown on their subsequent drive.
Going into next season, Salvosa said the Madison defense is working on getting more conditioned to face up-tempo offenses like South County. On the other side of the ball for Madison, however, it was No. 1 in black, Jreige, who was putting on a show.
“If you watch that South County game, you can see by just how hard [Jreige] ran the ball,” Salvosa said. “I’m getting goosebumps just talking about it … [when] you see your running back working that hard, it makes you want to play better.”
Jreige said he estimates he ran for 60- to 80-yards in the fourth quarter against South County alone, and describes himself as more of a power back that gets better as the game goes on. If he were to compare his running style to an NFL running back, he said former Pittsburgh Steelers and recently Kansas City Chief running back Le’Veon Bell is accurate because of the patience they both run with. However, Madison’s defensive coordinator Ray Gordon calls him “Alvin,” Jreige said, referring to all-pro New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.
Contrary to Salvosa, Jreige said he’s more of an introvert and keeps to himself before and during games in order to “stay in the zone.” After the offense finishes watching film on the sideline, he said he separates from the rest of the team to keep his mind right and to avoid distractions.
Jreige said while he’s not the fastest running back — he said he runs between a 4.7- and 4.8-second 40-yard dash — he makes up for it with his ability to find holes and catch the ball out of the backfield. He said his experience playing outfielder in baseball and slot receiver in youth football has helped his hand-eye coordination and overall receiving ability.
But — Madison predicates its offense on power-I formations and inside and outside zone running concepts, Jreige said, and rarely throws the ball. Both pass offense and defense are areas where Jreige said he sees room for improvement with the Warhawks going into the fall.
“When we pass, usually I’m just pass blocking or running a swing route which the quarterback rarely even looks at me,” Jreige said. “I feel like teams can stack the box and just sit in like a 46-bear [defensive] look and sell out on the run, and if the pass goes, then [the defense] can play man coverage on our two receivers and just hope [the quarterback] doesn’t throw a perfect pass.”
Putting the offensive load on Jreige’s shoulders week in and week out almost cost him his season before it got off the ground during his junior year. In Madison’s opening game against Falls Church, Jreige suffered a “pretty bad” ankle injury that sidelined him the following week against Oakton. While he returned two weeks later against Westfield, and played in every game after that, Jreige said the injury lingered and took him out of baseball mid-season after he said his doctor told him that he needed to start physical therapy if he wanted to be ready for football in August.
The perils of playing football seasons in such close proximity of each other — compounded with wanting to put out good film to play at the next level — was a problem that kept Jreige from having an on-field football workout after his junior season until July 3. The college football hopeful now has less than a month to prepare for his senior campaign.
A healthy Jreige will be critical for Madison to repeat last season’s success and to go toe-to-toe against some of the region’s other top returning competition. The other Class 6, Region D first-team running back from the spring, Westfield’s Mikel Legal, is also returning for his senior campaign. Salvosa described Legal as an “absolute unit,” and the only running back he played that the 225-pound linebacker — who likes to normally likes keep action in a “phone booth” — said, “might have a shot to run through me.” The two best running backs in the region might be in the same district this fall.
Another all-region player that’s returning for his senior campaign is Chantilly defensive end Aiden Gobiara — a four-star Notre Dame commit and the region’s player of the year. Somers said Gobiara was a handful to gameplan against when Centreville squared off against Chantilly and its 6’6” 235-pound Fighting Irish-bound standout March 5 in a 14-7 loss.
“[Gobiara’s] very strong and has a long reach,” Somers said. “The best thing we could do was get him before he touched us,” Somers said.
Gobiara still touched plenty of Wildcats in the backfield — he had two sacks and two tackles for loss despite many plays being ran away from his side of the field.
Other than Gobiara, none of the returning Class 6, Region D first teamers have any offers. Sommers said he’s received interest from Averett — a Division III school in Danville, Va. — and Virginia Union, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Richmond. Jreige said he’s received some roster spots from Division III schools, but he’s still waiting on interest from Division I programs despite being first-team all-region. Salvosa said while he hasn’t received any offers yet, he’s hopeful for some to come in this fall because he “would love to keep playing until I can’t anymore.”
That’s why Jreige, Salvosa and Somers are prioritizing their senior seasons more than individual aspirations — they can only control how they play, and the rest is up to the talent evaluators, no matter what accolades they receive in their final year of high school.
Other than a championship, Somers said his goal is to help Centreville’s younger players understand football and that they have “that mentality” to continue winning after he graduates. Salvosa said whether the personal accolades come or not, all he cares about is leading Madison to the state championship game and getting a ring. Jreige echoed a similar sentiment as his teammate.
“I just want to have a fun senior year [and] try to compete for a district, conference and state title,” Jreige said. “Wherever that takes me, I’ll figure it out from there. I’m kind of just focused in on the season, then we’ll see what comes after.”