Fresh off the practice field, Freedom coach Darryl Overton leans back in his office chair, reaches for a bottle of water, and asks for someone to toss him the remote that controls the large TV hanging on the wall.
With the nucleus of last year’s 13-2 team returning, Overton is shouldering the weight of heightened expectations. On this Tuesday evening, however, the 35-year-old coach seems more relaxed than ever, seemingly unfazed by the pressure of delivering the school’s first state championship.
So far, so good.
The Eagles are 2-0, having barely been tested heading into Friday’s home game against Class 6 power Colonial Forge.
“It’s going how I expected,” Overton said matter-of-factly.
This is Overton’s fifth season at Freedom. The program he inherited in 2015 was a perennial doormat, winning just 15 games in the school’s first decade of existence. In just four years under Overton’s direction, the Eagles have more than doubled that win total (35), including 13 last season, which ended with a loss to Manchester in the Class 6 state championship game.
Last year’s playoff run was an experience that senior class will never forget, but those five extra games – and 20 additional practices – may have proven more valuable to the players returning this season.
“We played a whole extra half a year,” Overton said. “We’re at a different point with our team than some of these other teams. I felt like the second day of practice, we were ready to play a game.”
It shows. Freedom has outscored its first two opponents 97-14, including a 50-14 pummeling of Hayfield in a rematch of last year’s regional semifinal matchup. Senior quarterback Quest Powell has directed the Eagles’ quick-strike offense to near perfection, completing – and this isn’t a typo – 80 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns against just two interceptions. The Freedom defense is also humming right along, having pitched a 47-0 shutout at Riverbend last week.
The Eagles will move up a weight class Friday night against Colonial Forge, which has won 20-straight regular season games and is 52-11 since 2014. It’s only the third game of the season (the second for Forge), but it’s a big one.
“We’re treating this like a playoff game,” Powell said. “It’ll be like a playoff atmosphere.”
It’ll also be a special game for Overton and Colonial Forge head coach John Brown, whose families are extremely close and go way back. Overton played for Brown’s father, Bill, at C.D. Hylton, winning two state titles and putting together a 39-game win streak before graduating in 2001. Overton also served as Bill Brown’s defensive coordinator at Colonial Forge for six years before taking the Freedom job. John Brown took the reins at Colonial Forge in 2018 after his father’s retirement.
Despite preparing to beat one another this week, the two head coaches still found time to exchange text messages and phone calls. Overton said he joked with Brown that Colonial Forge had a distinct advantage heading into Friday’s showdown coming off a bye.
“It probably helped them because they had a whole extra week to prepare for us,” Overton said, laughing.
Colonial Forge, which has finished with at least nine wins in nine of the last 10 seasons, is led by senior quarterback Madden Lowe, who threw for more than 2,000 yards and 20-plus touchdowns last season. Forge returns its top receiver, Elijah Surratt, and will rotate a stable of running backs in a wide-open spread offense.
Freedom and Forge have only played twice before, most recently in 2016 when Freedom won 27-17 at home.
Forge represents perhaps the toughest opponent on Freedom’s schedule, and Brown said that feeling is mutual, which is quite a statement considering Forge also has Richmond-area powerhouse Highland Springs on the schedule this year. The Springers have won four-straight Class 5 state championships and have lost a total of four games in the past five years.
“They don’t have many weaknesses,” Brown said of Freedom. “You have to have a plan B for them, and probably a plan C, too.”
No matter the outcome, Brown said, he’ll walk across the field when the clock hits triple-zeroes and extend a hand to his counterpart on the other sideline.
“He’s special to our family,” Brown said of Overton “We cheer him on. We hope the best for him, just not this week."