Darrell Hayden performs a variety of tasks for Massaponax home football games.

Hayden cuts grass, paints the field, turns on the stadium lights and works on the chain crew. He’s been faithful in those duties since the school opened in 1998.

But Hayden isn’t just a reliable presence at the Panthers’ home games. He’s missed only two games (home or away) in 22 years.

“When we traveled up north for a game a few years ago my buddy and I spent the night in a motel room and came back the next day,” Hayden said.

Hayden said Friday night football has become a way of life. He’s bonded with the players so much that he had 17 of them assist him at the Spotsylvania Soap Box Derby. They helped him load and unload cars for the race. There were a few players at the top of the hill and a few at the bottom near the finish line.

“The majority of them are just a joy to be around,” Hayden said. “And I’ve always gotten along with [head coach Eric Ludden] and the rest of the coaches.”

Hayden is a native of Spotsylvania County who now lives in Bowling Green. He played football for Spotsylvania High School. His two daughters graduated from Massaponax, and he’s become a fixture on Friday nights.

In addition to his pregame duties, Hayden helps clean the stadium and empties trash cans after the game. Massaponax athletic director Stan Clements relies on him heavily.

“Stan puts a few things on me that he wants me to do,” Hayden said. “I’ll do whatever needs to be done. “There’s not much I have not done for this team.”

OFFENSE

Coach Eric Ludden believes he has his latest big-play quarterback in junior Luke Morley, who rushed for 372 yards and five TDs as a backup last year. Fullback Joshua Hale rushed for 1,190 yards and 14 TDs in 2018 but enters this season with an undisclosed lower body injury. Look for Elijah Christopher (579 rushing yards in 2018) to take on a larger offensive role. In the passing game, Morley will throw to speedy receivers Isaiah Dowell and Jaiven Plummer. Ludden noted the Panthers’ offensive line no longer has the “menacing” presence of Division I guards Donavan Beaver and Teagan McDonald. but senior tackles Lanxton Athy and Jayden Woods are solid.

DEFENSE

Athy is expected to be dominant at end after recording double-digit sacks last season, including four in a win over Stafford. Fellow end Quentin Wilcox can also wreak havoc. Inside linebackers Christopher and Jacob Carmichael are honor students and steady leaders. The speedy Javaney Bruno has come on strong at one outside linebacker position. In the secondary, Dowell, Jacob Romero, Michael Swain and Derell Stokes have all seen significant action.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Perhaps no kicker in the Fredericksburg area will be missed like Jonathan Kim, who is now a freshman at North Carolina. Carson Pugh and Jack Hudson were battling late in camp to replace Kim. Ludden likes Morley’s savvy as a punter. The Panthers have a plethora of potential dynamic return men.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Panthers rebounded from an uncommon four-win 2017 season by going 11–2 last fall. They have the ability for a duplicate performance, but there are concerns. While the starting lineup can match up with any team on the schedule, the Panthers lack depth that’s helped the program thrive over the years. Another concern is that Massaponax is moving to Class 6 after a successful run in Class 5.

ERIC LUDDEN

22nd season (171-72)

“This is one of the hardest schedules we’ve ever had. [Dinwiddie and Louisa] are state playoff teams and they’re just as good this year. We go to Pennsylvania and play a team that was 11-2. I don’t see any easy games, any easy breaks.”

OFFENSE

QB Luke Morley 6-4 185 Jr.

RB Joshua Hale 6-0 198 Sr.

RB Elijah Christopher 5-10 210 Jr.

RB Jacob Romero 5-7 156 Jr.

WR Isaiah Dowell 5-10 150 Jr.

TE Kayden Schickel 6-2 157 Jr.

LT Lanxton Athy 6-1 224 Sr.

LG Will Park 6-0 227 Sr.

C Darian Moore 5-10 269 Sr.

RG DeShaun Sharp 6-4 360 Jr.

RT Jacob Carmichael 6-1 228 Sr.

K Carson Pugh 5-7 151 Jr.

DEFENSE

DE Lanxton Athy 6-1 224 Sr.

NG Jayden Woods 6-0 255 Sr.

DE Quentin Wilcox 6-1 223 Sr.

LB Joshua Hale 6-0 198 Sr.

LB Elijah Christopher 5-10 210 Jr.

LB Jacob Carmichael 6-1 228 Sr.

LB Javaney Bruno 5-10 170 Jr.

CB Isaiah Dowell 5-10 150 Jr.

CB Jacob Romero 5-7 156 Jr.

S Michael Swain 5-9 169 Jr.

S Derell Stokes 5-8 158 So.

P Luke Morley 6-4 185 Jr.

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