Road to Wheeling starts now

While West Virginia is still 20 days away from the start of the high-school gridiron regular season, teams around the Mountain State started laying the ground work for an end-of-the-year trip to Wheeling Island Stadium this week.

Ankles are being taped, helmets broken in, offensive linemen are taking their first real reps and pads started popping today as the foundations are laid for a hopefully successful season.

Locally, there are several intriguing storylines for area teams during the 2018 campaign:

What is in store for

PHS in the second year

of the Byus era?

First-year Big Reds’ head coach Mike Byus wasted no time making improvements at the helm of one of the country’s most successful high-school grid programs. The native West Virginian improved a 4-6 team in 2017 by three wins, then he doubled down with a Class AAA playoff berth.

While PHS suffered a first-round exit, 42-35, at the hands of John Marshall, a large contingent of Big Reds return this season with a different outcome in mind.

Offensively, two of the Big Reds’ most potent weapons slot in at wide receiver and running back. Brenton Strange and Tyler Moler should get plenty of attention come all-state time and from opposing defenses. Each should benefit from the dual-threat potential shown by quarterback Jake Johnson last season in limited starts.

Johnson’s legs add another element to an already dangerous offense with experience back in the trenches.

A stronger team as a whole also graces the field as Byus is happy the Big Reds “are light years ahead of where we were,” from a season ago in the weight room.

Don’t be surprised to see PHS grab another top-10 playoff spot this season and advance out of the first round.

Can Doddridge County take the next step?

High school message boards around the state are very high on Doddridge County. Many discus the Bulldogs’ chances at a spot in Wheeling Island Stadium at the end of the season as very good.

A quick look at the Bulldogs’ roster shows reasoning for the increased optimism which surrounds the school in West Union.

Returning key skill position players dot the offensive side of the field for Bobby Burnside’s Bulldogs. Hunter America takes over as the main cog at running back, Seth Davis’s playmaking abilities should help stretch the field at wide receiver, while Tanner Lett provides experience behind center.

Strength along the o-line doesn’t hurt either.

Losing tough-as-nails fullback Logan Gogan and running back Curtis James to graduation hurts. Yet, Burnside and his staff are good at identifying the gritty players required by every team.

Defensively, finding replacements for James at linebacker along with Gogan and William Howell along the line are crucial questions for the point-stopping unit. See the above statement about Doddridge’s staff able to identify the players they need for answers.

Jordan Owens and America could be the answers at linebacker, while time will tell who emerges along the line. Howell didn’t turn heads until fall practice a season ago, before he turned in a all-state first-team earning performance.

How does Roane County

respond to an 0-10 season?

Losing seasons serve as pretty large motivators, but winless seasons magnify a losing campaign 10 fold. A zero in the win column provides bulletin-board material for an entire team over the course of a long offseason.

Questions are asked, changes are made, and everyone works harder in an effort to ensure a zero-percent chance of a repeat campaign.

The unfortunate storm of losing a talented senior class, inexperienced youth at many positions all over the field, and new offensive schemes all at once hit the new-look Raiders like a Mack truck in 2017.

I have no doubt a positive response is coming from one of Class AA’s smallest high schools. Paul Burdette’s squad possesses a hugely talented junior class no longer wide-eyed to the demands on the gridiron after a trial-by-fire year.

Hopefully, they and the rest of the team acquired a taste of the possibilities after Roane was competitive in several of its closing games.

Am I saying the Raiders advance as far as Wheeling?

No.

But six or seven wins and a playoff berth isn’t out of the question for the boys in Spencer either.

Ritchie County’s turnaround may come quicker than many people think it will.

Covering the Rebels track program the past few years allowed me time to learn a few things about new Ritchie gridiron coach Rick Haught. You would be surprised how much information can be gleaned from 20- to 30-minute conversations.

There is little doubt in my mind Haught brings his intelligence, never-ending enthusiasm, competitiveness and great problem-solving skills to a football team stuck in a rut.

Maximizing the talent given is a calling card of his track and field program as well. Some people just understand what makes others tick. Haught excels at motivating and driving his athletes to bigger and better heights.

Couple these factors with the hunger for success in the Ritchie program for a winning recipe.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

COMMENTS