Two decades ago, Culpeper County High School’s varsity football team captured the hearts of a county and the attention of sports fans across the state of Virginia by winning the Group AAA Division 5 State Championship. The 1999 Blue Devils lived and played in a much different world then— fewer people were staring at smartphones, bonds of friendship were built on little league fields and sports writers still filed stories by fax.
Culpeper County had one high school, more farmland, and the place to be on any given Friday night was Broman Field—there were tailgates, packed stands and cowbells so loud you could hear them in downtown streets.
The Blue Devils exceeded all expectations of fans and sports writers with a remarkable 14-0 season. It toppled a seemingly invincible Hampton team, that had earned four-straight state titles. To top it off the Devils soundly defeated a talented Henrico team in the state championship game. The season was not without its tests of focus, heart and grit—Woodbridge and Albemarle nearly disrupted Culpeper’s road to the title—yet those tests created a strong bond and greater resolve.
Any story of the 1999 Blue Devils starts much earlier—the character and toughness of this team was constructed in the junior varsity ranks and tutored by upperclassmen that had gone far in the state playoffs. The Blue Devils fostered a tradition of excellence in the late 1990s. Other factors were a team that had played and driven each other to excel since childhood—in youth football games and in backyards.
This team had talent, depth, focus and the magical knack for having the right players in key positions at exactly the right time. It was a season that remains in the memories of all who played, coached, cheered and covered it.
Today, the champions of 99’ are building families and careers.
“I remember sitting down with Coach Lou Sorrentino and top receiver Terence Dinkins before the season started and discussing our goals. He said he knew we wanted to throw the ball and break records—but he asked us to focus on a more balanced approach using all our team’s offensive weapons and one heck of a defense. We had great running backs in Brandon Jones and Jermaine Cropp. He wanted balance and Terence and I told him our goals were to win a championship,” reflected Mike Jenkins, former quarterback of the state champion Blue Devils. “We had a team that believed in each other from the bench players, to starters, to coaches, to the fans in the stands.”
A cross section of former team stars, coaches and media took time to reflect on a season that concluded with traffic jams and parades down main street.
Recently, Jenkins met up with two of his former offensive linemen Brian Duncan and Kevin Mays at Pig-n-Steak, in nearby Madison County.
“I just had lunch with Mike Jenkins to finally cash in on a 20-year-old bet. Mike had a bet with Kevin Mays and I that for every game he didn’t get sacked in, he would buy us a Mountaineer Platter from the Pig-n-Steak. It took 20 years, but he finally came through,” said Brian Duncan, former offensive tackle (1999 team captain, all-state and all-district player).
The bonds between players, coaches and community remain strong for members of this legendary team. All remain close 20 years later.
“It was the best time of our young lives at that point, it was like Friday Night Lights with your boys. We just knew that we loved winning games and having fun together. When we were little my dad Chucky Dinkins and Steve Rogers said one day at Moore Golf field, ‘If these boys stick together, they might win something in high school," recalled Terence Dinkins, the team’s former all-state, all-district receiver. “We all grew up playing sports with and against each other.”
Jenkins spoke about the big wins against Hampton, Henrico and North Stafford that season and about games against Woodbridge and Albemarle where the team struggled. He spoke specifically about looking teammates in the eyes after nearly losing to a determined Woodbridge team and saying, “I didn’t remember this being this hard—and that we needed to step up our game and concentration.”
The words “accountability and teamwork” permeated the hearts of the team from top to bottom.
In Hampton, team leaders gave teammates an ultimatum, “If you cannot play against the Crabbers leave your pads here and go home.” Prior to facing the Blue Devils Hampton had a 25-game winning streak.
“I had one the longest relationships with coach Sorrentino. I went from ball kid to starting quarterback. I learned from him that putting the right people around you leads to success,” added Jenkins. “I grew up bleeding Blue and Gold. I admired so many players that stepped on the field before me. I always felt an obligation to honor the traditions built at my school.”
Earlier this summer, Dinkins and Jenkins joined former Blue Devils’ offensive and defensive coaches Todd Campbell and Dave Boley for the induction ceremony of Coach Lou Sorrentino into the Virginia High School League’s Hall of Fame. Sorrentino is currently head football coach at Mountain View High School in Stafford.
“So many great moments that season. Our victory over Hampton in the state semis. They had won four- straight state championships. We were heavy underdogs. Our guys believed they could win and pulled it off,” said Sorrentino. “All positive memories, even more this year because of the HOF induction. Seeing Terence and Mike along with Todd and Dave at the ceremony made it extra special.”
“Before the 1999 season I knew we could be good--but I didn't anticipate 14-0 and a state championship because of Hampton,” added Sorrentino. “Returning from the state championship game Culpeper’s Main Street was lined with fans and we had an impromptu pep rally at our football field. It was an exciting and surreal moment I will never forget.”
On the radio Mark O’Connell and Steve Peacock thrilled listeners with play-by-play and game analysis.
“Like everyone else in the Culpeper community, I was caught up in the excitement of Blue Devils football and its only state championship season of 1999. I count it as a special privilege to have been a part of the media during that time, for it allowed me to get to know head Coach Lou Sorrentino, his staff, and their players. That season was just mine and Steve Peacock’s second in broadcasting and so many memories are forever etched in our minds,” said O’Connell, author of The Team the Titans Remember. “So many memories, but the one that may be uniquely my own is this one: before the start of the state semifinal game against Hampton, I went to the field to wish Coach Sorrentino and his players good luck. I remember sensing just how cool and collected Lou and his players were. They were about to play the biggest game in the program’s history against a formidable opponent that was accustomed to winning championships. The Culpeper coaches and their players seemed relaxed and confident. It was as though they knew they belonged there--that this was no fluke. They proved it on the field.”
He continued, “At the point in the game when they were supposed to fold or collapse as most of Hampton’s opponents had done for years, they refused; instead, they fought back and won the game, and the respect and admiration of their opponent—then and for all time. The Blue Devils’ success galvanized the community, instilled so much civic pride, and created memories that will last a lifetime.”
Duncan now teaches agriculture at Eastern View High School, Culpeper County’s youngest high school.
“To be honest until last year I hadn’t really reflected on it that much. When Eastern View was in the playoffs and looked to be headed to the big game, I had several people ask me about comparisons between us and the EV team. Which was better? Who would win in a match up? I finally went to my first game at EV and it happened to be the last game for the seniors on their home field,” said Duncan. “After the game some of the seniors went back on to the field to lay in the end zone, take pictures, and just take in the fact that they wouldn’t be playing there again. As I watched this all I could say to myself was soak it in boys. It’s been 20 years since it all happened. Life has basically taken over now. Recently, I’ve had several people bring it up and some of us have started the wheels in motion for a reunion.”
Most of the former stars count the victory over Hampton as the greatest game of the season. Dinkins showed incredible toughness in the game catching everything Jenkins threw his way.
“We were down 14-17 to Hampton and it was 4th and 6 with 4:40 left in the 4th quarter. Mike rifles a pass over two and between another three Crabbers and I snatched it out of the air to keep the drive alive for a 20-yard gain. This led to Mike Greenaway’s tying field goal in regulation,” recalled Dinkins.
For Duncan, the Hampton game was also quite memorable.
“Everyone remembers when we played Hampton. I can say that the week leading to that game was the most serious and business like that I can remember. I don’t think the state championship practice was even as tough. What I remember the most from that game was it was the first time in my football career that you could literally feel the atmosphere change in a stadium. We were the consummate underdogs from ‘country Culpeper’ walking into a respected and storied football program that literally couldn’t have any more accolades bestowed upon them,” said Duncan. “The offensive line had the mentality that we weren’t going to take anything off anybody and that if they smashed us in the mouth, we were going to give it back two-fold and I can say the WHOLE team felt that way. That speaks worlds to the discipline that our coaches hammered into us. As the game went on you could feel the atmosphere change and when we managed to get ahead of Hampton it seemed like even their fans didn’t know what to do. I still can’t really describe the feeling of beating them.”
In football, a tenacious and intelligent defense wins championships Culpeper had a great one in 1999 led by senior safety Steven Barber. Linebackers Daniel Winning and Jeremy Bailey were also two standouts on that championship team. Many names come to mind on this defense including Curtis Robinson, Phillip Young, Stefan Orange and Ryan Bache.
“Our defense was tough. We loved the challenges. It was a mentality that we all shared. We truly believed we could stop anyone at any time anywhere on the field under any circumstances. We had a swagger,” said Bailey. “I was a first-year varsity sophomore starting at inside linebacker. I was first team all-district and honorable mention all-region. The game that stood out for me was Hampton. That was the biggest game I can think of that any team in Culpeper has ever been in (in any sport). “
“Our fans were amazing! A big factor in our success was our fan base. It was a special time with a special group of guys that refused to lose,” added Bailey. “We had an excellent coaching staff that knew the game and kept their poise. We welcomed the big stage and no opponent was too great. We won with talent, we won with grit, and we won with class.”
Winning, now a father and professional firefighter in Colorado was a senior linebacker, fullback and wide receiver in 1999.
“There isn't one game that stands out for me that season. I think it’s a culmination of how we built off each game. We built our identity each play, and our confidence grew each game. The North Stafford and Brooke Point games were great tests for our team those were big wins. I always had the confidence we were good but after beating North Stafford so easily it made me even more confident in what we could do,” remembers Winning. “A big moment that really stands out to me is the Hampton game. Traveling all that way and to go to a ‘neutral’ stadium only to realize it was in their backyard. The atmosphere there was something out of a movie. It was intimidating at first. Our fans made us feel like we could beat anybody. Our support grew each week and I recall all the car horns and cow bells. I have been reminiscing and it honestly still gives me goosebumps.”
“We had some incredible coaches. I don't know if they get enough credit for what they did. They took a bunch of kids from a lot of different walks of life and made us into something bigger than any of us could have imagined,” added Winning.
The mental toughness and focus of this team were notable. The team refocused after each victory and never allowed teenage egos to disrupt the drive to win.
Duncan has six memories of the state championship game.
“Walking on the field for pregame and being in awe at playing in a college stadium. Kneeling as a team, holding hands with Kevin Mays and Kyle Kennedy, and saying The Lord’s Prayer in the locker room. Coming on to the field and seeing our town/county’s fans there to support us,” said Duncan. “I looked around the locker room at halftime while coach Sorrentino talked and realized that this would be the last half of high school football. The look on everyone’s face, in the huddle right before Mike took the final knee to end the game. Lastly, hugging my best friend Kevin Mays and both of us crying.”
Dave Richardson, now the voice of the Eastern View Cyclones, was a Culpeper line coach in 1999. He remembers building the offensive line with Duncan and Mays at the junior varsity level.
“Our coaching staff saw key players very early on and allowed them to grow into their roles—that made a huge difference,” said Richardson. “We were a balanced team with the right players in the right positions to succeed. So many of our players contributed to earn that championship.”
“The ride back and celebration at Broman Field were a blur after the state championship. I remember driving home that night and shedding a tear or two. Why? It was over,” said Duncan. “To this day even after having played football at Fork Union and VMI I still cherish my high school football experience because of my teammates, they are the ones that make you miss it.”
Jenkins is optimistic about the future of Culpeper football. He feels the newly hired athletic director Daniel Nobbs and first-year head football coach James Ford will help bring back the pride and traditions he so fondly remembers.
“If I had a message for the community it would be to show the young men playing at Broman Field this fall the same love you once showed us—good things will happen,” said Jenkins. “In the roller coaster that is my life that year was so special.”