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Defending their title

After guiding Nansemond-Suffolk to the state football crown in his first season coaching the Saints, it would be understandable if the main message from Kevin Allen during the first couple days of practice was to repeat what worked last season.

In some ways, that’ll be the case. In other ways though, Allen admits he’s still gaining experience and still looking for ways to improve the Saints as they start out to defend the Virginia Independent Schools (VIS) Division II title.

“The biggest thing I’m trying to do is to learn from my first year as a head coach,” Allen said.

The Saints had their second day of official practice Tuesday. The afternoon session had to start indoors, in NSA’s gym, because of the heat index.

The biggest change is the addition of a new, but quite familiar, assistant coach. Pete Allen, who was an assistant coach at Hampton University last fall, joins his brother Kevin as his offensive coordinator.

Pete Allen played at Granby High School and the University of Virginia before playing professionally for the Atlanta Falcons and in the Canadian and Arena leagues.

The brothers have worked together before. At Maury, Kevin was the defensive coordinator and Pete was the offensive coordinator.

Mike Newhall, NSA’s offensive coordinator last season, is now the lineman coach for the Saints.

“Mike did great for us last year,” Allen said. “He’s a heck of a line coach. When we combine those two guys working with our offense, we’ll have a whole different dimension.”

The idea of joining forces again came from how well they’ve worked together in the past and because of how the Saints have to adjust from losing all-state running back Will Crenshaw and four of five starting offensive linemen off of last year’s squad.

“I knew we couldn’t come in with the normal, conventional, NSA style of run the ball and pound it down your throat,” Allen said.

“Fortunately, I was able to turn to my brother who’s an offensive guru. He knows the passing game very well. We’ll have that more and a mix of the running game,” Allen said.

“Our father coached and we played for him, so I guess his coaching just rubbed off on us,” he said.

Kevin and Pete will be working a lot with senior Domonique Lennon. Lennon was an all-state player on both sides of the ball last year, at quarterback and defensive back. Lennon has verbally committed to a scholarship offer, most likely to play on the defensive side, from East Carolina.

On defense, a defense that pitched a 17-0 shutout in the state final at Blue Ridge last November, eight starters return.

“We’re spending a lot of time making sure everyone knows their assignments. We’ve been going through a lot of mental reps,” Allen said.

Allen is pleased with how summer workouts went. The Saints did a lot of speed and weight work leading up to officially getting out on the field.

NSA is building up to its opener against Windsor on Sept. 3. Facing the Dukes is also chance for the Saints to improve. Windsor beat NSA 28-0 last year.

“Another thing I learned is I’ve got to make sure my kids are in shape for the first game this year,” Allen said.

“We were okay by about the fourth game, but it took us until then to get in shape. Once we were in shape, there was no stopping us,” Allen said.