BRISTOL, Va. — Scoring touchdowns resulting in the roar of the crowd is something Dylan Cunningham has experienced often in the past.
He’s ready for it to happen again.
“I like running back, I like being able to score,” said Cunningham, a senior linebacker and running back, who scored eight touchdowns last season for John Battle. “It is a feeling that I replay in my head even when the season is over. I just think about it throughout the year.”
The countdown for more has begun, with hopes for even more touchdowns and wins in the season ahead, beginning with the opener on Aug. 30 at Mountain District foe Abingdon.
“I am looking forward to it,” said Cunningham, whose Trojans have opened with the Falcons every year since 2013, winning the first one and losing the last six, including last year’s 34-8 contest. “[My] last year getting to play Abingdon, I am hoping to go out there and prove ourselves.”
It has been said that time flies. Cunningham would agree, having already reached his senior season on Battle Hill.
“It is exciting. I am ready for the season. Going from freshman year to now, it is gone by so fast,” Cunningham said. “I don’t know if I am ready to give it up or not, but hopefully I will go off to play in college somewhere. But senior year, I am ready for it.”
High on his list of hopes for this season is success in the postseason. John Battle, which last won a playoff game in 2012, has lost in the opening round in their previous four appearances, including the last three seasons.
“I am thinking this season we can do even better,” said Cunningham, whose Trojans finished with a 5-6 mark last year. “I feel like this is a very athletic team. I feel like we have got it together this year. I feel like we can go further than we did last year.”
Leading the way will be a new name at the top, with alumnus Bradley Ricker having replaced Britt Stone as head coach of the Trojans. He is, however, no stranger to anyone, having served as an assistant at John Battle for the previous seven years.
“I still see Coach Ricker as a really good coach. Last year he was the offensive coordinator; he really helped me get to where I needed to be,” Cunningham said. “I feel like this year, with him being head coach, it should just kind of improve the team even more.”
What won’t change is the triple-option offense that is directed for senior quarterback Walker Osborne and a trio of talented backs, including Cunningham, Seth Scarbrough and Bryson Denton. Leading the way will be offensive line returnees John Phipps, Tyler McCloud and Eddie Rodriguez.
“The triple-option is a very good system,” Cunningham said. “I think we run it pretty well for a high school football team.”
It is that offense that the 6-foot, 185-pound Cunningham looks to improve in the season ahead, helping out a defensive unit that recorded two shutouts and held four foes to less than 20 points last year.
“We have a lot of returnees for our defense. I feel like offense is where we really need to step up this year,” Cunningham said. “I feel like our defense last year really held their own, but I feel like this year, if we can score, we will do better.”
Cunningham doesn’t just play football. He is also a standout baseball player for John Battle and has learned to take his focus from the diamond to his duties on the gridiron.
“I guess … having to concentrate in baseball, hitting, fielding, really helps you with football,” he said. “It helps with concentration and mental toughness.”
His future plans are to play a sport at the next level, and he would love for that place to be Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.
“I am really looking for anywhere that will give me a scholarship, but school of choice, I would love to go play football or baseball at Coastal Carolina,” he said.
College can wait, with the Trojans ready to be challenged by the always-competitive Mountain District — including Abingdon, Union, Ridgeview, Gate City and more — along with a non-league slate highlighted by Bristol rival Virginia High, Marion and Patrick Henry.
“It is fun. I like being challenged,” said Cunningham, whose Trojans open their home campaign on Sept. 6 with the Bearcats. “The team just really needs to stay together. As long as we are thinking alike and playing together, I think it will be better this year.”
As for the goals ahead, getting to the playoffs and advancing past the first round is definitely on Cunningham’s mind.
“The goal for every team is to make a state championship run, but I am thinking our goal really needs to be winning a playoff game first,” he said. “I feel like we have made it to the playoffs, and we always get beat in the first round. I feel like we need to improve and go further in.”