Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ten questions as high school football draws near

Taylor Robertson of James Monroe

WITH THE opening of high school football practice just 18 days away, here are 10 things to ponder before a new season kicks off around the state:
By Rick Ryan
Assistant Sports Editor

WITH THE opening of high school football practice just 18 days away, here are 10 things to ponder before a new season kicks off around the state:

1. Will the beat go on at Parkersburg? The Big Reds won 27 of 28 games and a pair of Class AAA championships the last two years, but face a major rebuilding task this time around. PHS returns just three of its defensive starters from the 2007 Super Six, and only two on offense. However, the schedule is more than favorable - only one of the Big Reds' first seven opponents (Riverside) made the playoffs last year, and PHS meets only three postseason teams in all.

2. Can St. Albans continue its climb? Under coach Derek Christian, who begins his fifth season, the Red Dragons have improved every year, from 2-8 in 2004 to 6-5, then 8-4 and 12-2 with a close loss to Parkersburg in the Super Six finals last year. SA does return two accomplished running backs in Marcus Fox, who ran for 1,304 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven starts before a season-ending knee injury, and backup Marcus Guy, who rushed for 1,380 yards and 11 TDs in his seven starts. However, six of the seven blockers up front last year were seniors.

3. Is Taylor Robertson of James Monroe the frontrunner for the Kennedy Award as West Virginia's top player? He is the top returning vote-getter for last year's Kennedy (finishing seventh) and the only non-senior among the top nine. The 6-foot, 185-pound hybrid running back-quarterback led the Mavericks' single-wing attack by rushing for 1,871 yards and 28 TDs and passing for 497 yards and three scores. But six of the seven starting offensive linemen from last year's title-game loss are gone to graduation.

4. Can Bluefield keep it going? Competing in AA, regarded as the most competitive class in the state, the defending champion Beavers have made it to the title game a remarkable eight times in the last 13 years, winning three crowns. However, Bluefield returns just three starters on both offense and defense.

5. Will anything get in the way of Wheeling Central, and will anyone hear about it? The Maroon Knights, four-time defending single-A champs, begin the season with 33 straight wins, three shy of the state record set by Ansted (1970-74). The potential record-breaker could come Sept. 19 in a home game against Morgan (Ohio), although the Knights play on the road against a very good Shadyside (Ohio) team the week before. Central lost a three-year starter at quarterback, its top two running backs and leading tackler, but it's hard to gauge the Knights against their schedule, because several state teams dropped them. They play six Ohio teams, three from Pennsylvania and only one from West Virginia - Linsly in the regular-season finale.

6. Whither Nitro? The Wildcats, who racked up points and yards by the bushel basket for more than a decade, face their first game since 1995 without offensive guru Scott Tinsley on the sideline. Tinsley, the team's head coach since 2002 and formerly the offensive coordinator, stepped down in March to take the job at WVU Tech. He'll be replaced by 31-year-old John Sowards, who spent six years on Tinsley's staff at Nitro before taking a sabbatical in 2006 for the birth of his son. The transition also includes a new quarterback, since Nitro loses three-year starter Michael Scott, although C.J. Crawford is expected to transfer in from Huntington for his senior season.

7. Can Martinsburg and Morgantown, two major AAA players, bounce back from subpar showings? Martinsburg had played in the state finals four of the previous six years and was 9-0 and ranked No. 1 last season, but lost its momentum when it forfeited two victories for using an ineligible player, dropped to the 11th seed, then fell in the opening round of the playoffs to Bridgeport. Morgantown, with four titles since 2000, only made the playoffs as the No. 15 seed after picking up a forfeit win against Martinsburg (a game it lost 29-3) just a week before the playoffs. The Mohigans then lost in the opening round for the first time since 1997.

8. Will Williamstown make its move to the top? The Yellowjackets have played in four of the last five Class A championship games and just last year had a regular-season winning streak snapped at an astounding 57 games. But with no titles to show for all its success, Williamstown doesn't want to go down in history as another footnote alongside Valley Wetzel (five title-game losses in six years from 1993-98).

9. How will reclassification affect the playoff field? Jefferson, formerly the state's largest school and a contender for a AAA playoff spot in recent seasons, will be split to form the new Washington High, and both will compete in AAA. Winfield and Logan also moved up into AAA, Greenbrier West and Tug Valley went up a division into AA and Iaeger dropped a notch to single-A.

10. Can Scott shake the reputation of being a one-trick pony? The Skyhawks made great strides the past two seasons in Class AA, winning 19 of 25 games behind Jordan Roberts, the Kennedy Award-winning running back who is walking on at West Virginia University. With Roberts gone, can Scott extend its postseason run to six straight years?

The Charleston Gazette


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