Cougars return to gridiron with promise

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, August 31, 2021

It has been two years since the Surry County High School varsity football team has taken the field, with the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately preventing it from playing in 2020 and the spring of 2021, but the Cougars are primed to return this fall with a new coach and several players from the 2019 squad that are back, now as seniors.

Zach Orlando was hired as Surry’s new head coach in early spring of this year. He served as the defensive coordinator last season at Prince George High School, a Virginia High School League Class 5 school. From 2017-19 he was the varsity head coach at Randolph-Henry High School in Charlotte Court House, a VHSL Class 2 school, and before that, he was an assistant coach for years at Nottoway High School in Crewe, which is a VHSL Class 2 school.

Though the pool of students to draw from is smaller at Surry than the previous schools where he has coached, Orlando has been excited about the opportunity to coach the Cougars since before he was hired and noted being impressed with the athletic talent level of the young men in the program.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We’re excited about this team, and we definitely think that we’re going to be able to win some games,” he said.

Surry has not played since the fall of 2019, but there are contributors on the roster who will help bring some continuity to the field.

“We’ve definitely got several kids that were sophomores on that (2019) team that are now seniors, so there’s some holdovers,” Orlando said.

He noted that as of Aug. 27, there were 27 players on the varsity roster.

The Cougars open the 2021 season Sept. 3 at home against Bruton High School. They visit Northampton High School the next week, host Randolph-Henry the week after that and visit Brunswick High School the following week.

“I think the first four games are definitely four that I feel pretty good about,” Orlando said. “We’re going to have to get out of the gate and catch momentum and do all that kind of stuff in order to ultimately do what we want to do.

“I think that the thing for this team is they haven’t played football in a year, but they are talented, so it’s kind of one of those things where the ceiling is really, really high, it just depends on how fast we can get back into a groove,” he continued.

He said he thinks Surry is capable of competing with all the teams on its schedule.

“I just don’t see a team — besides maybe Park View and Southampton just because they’re bigger schools — that’s going to come out and really give us major issues,” he said. “And we play a lot of teams that are in the same boat. So my expectation is for us to go out and compete every Friday night and to be in a ballgame every Friday night.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Cougars have two senior linemen that Orlando said he and his staff feel really good about — Wayne Ricks Jr. and Malachi Brown.

“(Malachi will) start at right tackle for us, and he’s also a defensive starter,” Orlando said. “Both him and Wayne, they’re both key pieces on both sides of the ball.

“Probably our best player, our guy that’s going to make us go is our halfback, No. 1, Harrygan Kelly Jr.,” the coach continued. “He’s got some real speed on him. He’s a powerful runner. He’s a special kid for the (Class 1) level, he’s just not real tall, but he’s got all the other intangibles you want, and he’s a two-way starter as well. He’ll start at linebacker on the defensive side of the ball.”

Then Orlando highlighted junior quarterback Anthony Tynes.

“He’s going to be a really good football player,” the coach said, noting Surry will throw the football with frequency this season, and a lot of that has to do with Tynes, in addition to solid receivers.

Ricks, Brown and Kelly also stand out on defense, along with the team’s starting cornerbacks — senior Parish Smith and senior Jakeh Charity.

“We feel really good about both of them at corner,” Orlando said.

There are multiple games on the regular season schedule that Orlando expects to be good litmus tests, helping him know where the Cougars are at developmentally.

“I think the home opener is probably the first one,” Orlando said. “That’s the first game on our schedule, and we’ll find out some stuff about ourselves.”

He also pointed to two key games later on in the season.

“We play Greensville our fifth game of the season, and they’ve been a pretty good football team the past three or four years, and they’ve really given Surry some problems in the past,” he said. “So that’ll be one that’ll kind of open our eyes to where we’re at as a team. And then definitely the last game of the season, that’s the big rivalry game with Sussex.”

The Cougars have already endured a few changes in their schedule. The coach said they had to shut down for 10 days due to COVID, causing a notable interruption in preseason training. Additionally, the first game of the season was originally a road contest at Charles City High School on Aug. 27, but Charles City did not end up having a team this year.

“We got lucky that we had a Week 2 bye, and Bruton had to play Charles City Week 2, so we ended up just swapping games,” he said.

Kickoff for Surry’s season opener Sept. 3 against visiting Bruton is set for 7 p.m.