All head coach Mike Kelly needs to do is look at the numbers and know Manassas Park High School’s football program is ready for a return to a full varsity schedule in 2019.

There are 50 names on his board who have expressed interest. There are 20 to 25 who have showed up consistently for offseason training. And a core group of returning underclassmen, including 17 rising sophomores and juniors, who helped Manassas Park go 7-0 last season against a schedule of varsity and junior varsity teams from public and private high schools.

A year after the Cougars cancelled their varsity season due to low turnout, Kelly said all these factors have the program optimistic about its present and future.

‘There is a much better feel where will be throughout the season,” said Kelly. “The kids are looking forward to it. Overall, they feel good.”

Manassas Park felt it had no choice but to cancel the varsity season after numerous factors, including injuries, left the program with only 15 players each day for practice.

But the Cougars still competed, just in a scaled-down way. Allowing seniors to participate, the Cougars played varsity games against Thomas Jefferson-Alexandria, Hampton Roads and the NOVA Kings and junior varsity games against Kettle Run, John Paul the Great and Riverside. They also played Park View, which like Manassas Park, cancelled its varsity season in 2018.

Kelly said he still has to clear up the misconception that Manassas Park had no team in any form last season.

“This was not a restart,” Kelly said. “A restart means you stopped and we never stopped. We had a football team and we continue to grow what we’ve done in the past.”

The highlight of last season was beating visiting Kettle Run on a last-second field goal on senior night. The players celebrated with the students who ran on to the field.

“With all the adversity, we played football and stuck with it,” Kelly said.

Kelly said Manassas Park’s success helped generate interest that’s carried over. The inception of a middle-school program also boosted numbers. The experience coming back only adds to the optimism.

“That’s a nice thing,” Kelly said. “We will still have to teach, but we have a core on offense and defense who are familiar with what we are doing.”

The Cougars will play an independent schedule the next two years against similar sized schools they can compete with. They open up Saturday, Aug 31 at Bishop Ireton.

They play five other private schools along with Park View (twice), George Mason (2-7 last season) and Armstrong (1-9 last season).

David Fawcett is the sports editor for InsideNoVa.com. Reach him at dfawcett@insidenova.com

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