ORANGE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - The Orange County football team has not had a normal start to fall practice. Just days before they were ready to take the field, the Hornets learned that 2017 OCHS graduate Darius Minor died during a preseason workout at the University of Maine.

The 18-year-old was a freshman with the Black Bears football team.

"It was heartbreaking," says senior WR/DB Chris Washington.

Senior TE/OLB Kyrie Carter echoes, "It was heartbreaking."

Junior running back Jaylen Alexander adds, "It was devastating, everyone had their tears."

With the sudden and recent passing of their former teammate, football became a welcomed distraction for the Hornets.

Carter says, "It definitely helps a lot, but you still have it in the back of your mind. You just have to work harder for him."

"It will make us grind even harder," says Washington. "Play even harder. He would want to be here on the field, so we have to play for him."

When Orange County takes the field this season, they'll be anchored by five junior returning starters on the offensive line.

Washington says, "The offensive line, they're amazing. I honestly think we have the best in the district right now."

Head coach Jesse Lohr says, "Having guys who can actually block, and create areas that allow a running back to be able to run through space, and not be touched until a few yards downfield, so you can get momentum, I think any running back would love to have that."

Junior running back Jaylen Alexander will be the focal point of the Hornets' offense this season, and when he gets a full head of steam, no one is safe. Not even his own teammates.

"Good downhill runner," says Carter. "I'm a lead blocker for him, so sometimes I get hit by him. It's a hard hit in the backplate. I have to make sure I have a backplate on, in case I get hit in the back."

Washington says, "Jaylen, he's awesome.  I don't think anyone can stop him around here."

Alexander ran for 16 touchdowns and 1,446 yards last season. 

He's setting his sights even higher this year.  "I have personal goals," says Alexander.  "I want to get over 2,000 yards, and 25-plus touchdowns."

The Hornets will have a new quarterback this year. Junior Walker Johnson takes over for Kenyon Carter, who transferred to Fork Union Military Academy.

Orange County will be looking to make the playoffs for the 4th year in a row this season. "It's basically mandatory," says Washington.  "We got to get up there."

Carter adds, "We got to be there. That's our one goal. Make the playoffs every year. Keep it on. Tradition."