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Culpeper County High School’s football team had to learn about overcoming adversity early this season.

Prior to the start of the season, first-year head coach James Ford was diagnosed with cancer. He’s in the hospital undergoing treatment, leaving assistant coach Brandon Utz in charge.

While it could have been devastating for many teams, the Blue Devils are rallying and dedicating this season to their coach.

“He’s in good spirits, he’s talking to us everyday,” Utz said. “He’s given us freedom, he’s trusted his coaching staff. He lets us coach. He’s got bigger stuff on his plate than football.”

“I think the initial shock of it was tough on them, but with that they’ve really turned it into some motivation,” Utz said. “There’s a comfort here knowing the rest of the staff has been here with them.”

Last year the Blue Devils finished 10-5, 5-1 in the region.That’s all in the past now as they move up to 4A in the Northwest Division.

“We’ve really done our job as a staff, it’s a mental grind,” Utz said. “We do our best to not focus on the opponent, we focus on putting a clean product on the field.”

The Blue Devils will host crosstown rivals Eastern View in the first week. It will be the only time the two teams match up - unless they would end up against each other in the state championship. 

Offensively, the Blue Devils will be led by senior quarterback Josh Plaster, who Utz says understands the offense better than anyone. He’ll be joined in the backfield by Riley Harrison, Austin Lentz and Jacob Douglas.

“We have a lot of good backs that can come in and share the load, in my opinion that’s our strength,” Utz said.

On the offensive line, the Blue Devils will be led by senior right guard Kameron Buckhanan. Also on the line is Nathan Bryan, Stewart Jones, Bracken Hibbert and Jacob McCracken.

Buckhanan is another senior leader on the team - who says that the Blue Devils are on the right path mentality despite their coach going down. 

“It’s life, life hits and adversity comes and you have to take it with a grain of salt and play for him,” Buckanan said. 

Senior Armani Hoffman will be one of the main weapons for Plaster on the outside, joined at wide receiver by DeJour McCray.

Defensively, the Blue Devils will employ a 3-4 but at times look like a 5-2. 

Harrison will lead the team at linebacker while Hoffman will anchor the defensive secondary. 

“Our defense is about communication,” Hoffman said. “When we communicate on defense, we shut things up.”

Up front, the Blue Devils will feature Buckhanan, Tyler Jeffries at nose tackle and Karl Quiambao. Harrison and Austin Lentz will serve as inside linebackers with Joe Holland and Quentin Butler outside. 

Utz praised Harrison for his preparation.

“He’s one of my film guys, he’s always on the film and I think that’s why he looks so fast on the field,” Utz said. 

In the secondary, Hoffman will be joined bo Cam Lacy, Javier Forloines and Osmond Reindorf-Malm.

Utz singled out Reindorf-Malm for his work ethic and dedication. 

“He forced himself into that role,” Utz said. “I have a lot of faith in him.”

Headed into the first game of the season, Hoffman said the Blue Devils have a simple goal. 

“Everything we do on from here on out is for coach,” Hoffman said. 

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