VAN — With 20 players reporting for summer practice, Van High School's success may rely as much on keeping the injury bug away as the leadership of All-County seniors Hunter McMicken and David Stewart.
Van finished 8-3 last season and found themselves ranked No. 12 and in the Class A playoffs after a late season surge that was only tarnished by a loss to cross-county rival Sherman, who was ranked No. 10 at the time.
In their playoff appearance, an early botched kickoff return and a fumble on their second possession put the Bulldogs in an early hole that they were unable to recover from as they fell, 30-12, to Cameron to end their season.
"I have to say," said Head Coach Steve "Foot" Price, "Staying healthy with our numbers is going to have a lot to do with our success. We have the athletes and we have the desire to win, we just have to keep everyone on the field."
Returning is elusive and powerful running back/slot receiver Stewart, who proved to be a handful for opposing defenses in 2018 with nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards. He also leads a defensive backfield that will have underclassmen in front of him at linebacker.
"He's a special kid," said Price. "You can get him the ball in space and let him do his thing. Last year, he would try to run through you, but with the weight he's put on in the weight room, he has the extra bulk to take that pounding. He's always been reliable and is as competitive a kid as you'll find anywhere."
Also returning for their final season is lineman Hunter McMicken, who will anchor both sides of the ball. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound McMicken has dropped 35 pounds through summer workouts and a grueling basketball season that he said helped him with his mobility.
"It definitely helped with my footwork and got me in better shape," he said. "I move better and I feel better."
McMicken said that in early practices, he likes what he sees from the underclassmen.
"They are stepping up and filling in real well," he said. "I like our team and I think we can do some good things."
Coach Price said that he is disappointed that he didn't have more than 20 bodies on the roster in 2019.
"I'm not happy about that," he said. "I was counting on five or six kids who told me they were coming out and they aren't here. We have seven seniors and we have some holes to fill. We have some kids who have put on some weight on the line so we're a little bigger and stronger there."
Price said that as of Aug. 15, junior Caleb Booth would be the starting quarterback who would replace graduated All-County signal caller Gavin Smith.
"We do have competition there so we'll see what happens," he said. "We have options there and with our numbers, everyone will play somewhere."
Foreign Exchange senior Frank Bergqvist comes to Van via Sweden and has an extensive soccer background.
"He's never played football before but he can run and he can catch the ball," Price added. "He has a strong leg so we'll use him in that way, too."
Price added that on his first attempt at punting a football, Bergqvist booted a strong 45-yard attempt that showed considerable hang time and impressed his coaches and teammates.
While Van will show some direct-snap, single-wing formations as they have done under Price, the coach said that he is adjusting his offense to some extent to support the strengths of his personnel.
"I really don't have a true fullback since (Drew) Price graduated," he said. "We'll have to adjust to that. I have six or seven kids that have experience and I'd take them against any six or seven. The others will get there but lack experience and are still young and learning."
Price added that if his team can avoid injury, he likes what he sees.
"I know that I keep saying this but when you've got 20 kids out, you really have to keep your guys on the field," he said. "I'm excited to get out there and see what we've got."
Van will open their season on Aug 30 at Meadow Bridge, a team that will be looking to avenge a last-second two-point conversion season opening win for the Bulldogs in 2018.
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-307-2402.
2019 Van High School
Aug. 30: at Meadow Bridge, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 6: at Liberty Raleigh, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13: Paden City, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20: Tug Valley, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27: OPEN DATE
Oct. 4: at Montcalm, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: at Mount View, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18: Sherman, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25: Hannan, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 1: Buffalo, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 8: at Richwood, 7:30 p.m.
2019 Van High School Fotbal Roster
Number Pos. Name Grade
2 WR Kalen Booth 11
3 RB/WR Shaun Booth 9
4 RB David Stewart 12
7 WR/RB Nicholas Chambers 9
8 RB/WR Ethan Coleman 12
9 RB/WR Frank Bergqvist 12
10 WR Payton Pauley 10
11 WR Jacob Jarrell 12
15 WR Chris Price 10
22 RB/WR Brady Green 9
25 WR Robert Bennett 12
27 WR/RB Jason Massey 9
52 OL/DL Dakota Pauley 9
57 OL Hunter McMicken 12
61 OL/DL Austin Perry 12
61 OL Slade Adams 11
63 OL Isiah Perdue 10
70 OL/DL Jesse Blankenship 11
77 OL/DL Roger Moore 10
Joseph Stewart 9