Earl Payton was a little squirt when he first met Ralph Steffey trying out for recreation football. And he was impressed.
“A great guy. It’s hard to find anyone in town who doesn’t have instant respect,” the Drifters’ varsity coach said.
Steffey, a 72-year-old retired contractor, lives for high school sports—particularly the Drifter variety. He is the proud papa of three children, eight grand children and two great- grandchildren. His grandson Brent is the Drifters’ head baseball coach, while grandson Mason Delane plays for the VCU baseball team.
“There’s nothing better than watching high school sports. We’re a small school, but the kids have a lot of heart,” said the elder Steffey, who managed, played for and sponsored a men’s slow-pitch softball team into his 50s. “They get knocked down and bounce right back up.”
He’s been running the chains at the football games for roughly 30 years, lining the Monroe Park field on a regular basis, and also operates the home scoreboard at baseball games. Regular members of the chain gang include son Daniel, grandsons Evan and Brent and Gary Inscoe. The unit once included Craig Inscoe, who has left the area.
Steffey shares a chuckle when opposing fans and players are “spooked” upon hearing the Drifters’ cannon firing off-field after every team score. Their biggest worry is when a play comes their way and there is little room to scatter in the area of the opposing team’s bench.
The Drifters look to offset their small number (19 heading into Week 1) with superior athletic talent and determination. Senior Corvion Davis should thrive after being switched from running back to quarterback. He completed six TD passes a year ago. Senior Trey Allison made the first-team all-Northern Neck District team and will share time with Zahkye Gresham and Randall Annino, a talented freshman. Fourth-year starter Wyatt Monroe is an anchor on the offensive line, which welcomes the return of Omarion Johnson after a year’s stay in King George. Tyson Lasse and Josiah Buckner will be targeted as tight ends.
Davis figures prominently here as well, coming into his final season with 20 career interceptions. Allison is capable of playing at a high level and may be a candidate for district defensive player of the year, while fellow linebacker M.J. Virgil is described as “a freak of nature” by his head coach. Their tackle totals should be impressive as the front trio of Brian McKenney, Alex Watson and Johnson should occupy opposing offensive lines with their size and strength. The secondary is relatively untested other than Davis, but is blessed with speed and athletic skill.
Annino, who won his Punt, Pass and Kick competition in the 11–12 age category, could give the Drifters a rare edge in the kicking game. Jayveon Hunter, Gresham and Annino are return candidates.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Borrowing a page from the NFL, the Drifters have adjusted their practice routines (due to small numbers) to more conditioning and less contact. The smallest public school to field a football team in the state of Virginia, the Drifters will be able to compete with every team on their schedule.