Here is a look at the area football teams coming into the 2019 season. Many of them are upcoming opponents of Westside or Wyoming East.
Practice officially kicked off on Aug. 5 around the state.
Many area teams used their flex days to start a week early and have a week in the books.
Ray Lee has been around long enough to see seniors who he remembers entering the program as freshmen. With that comes players who have been around the program and know what to expect.
Now comes the next step.
"We are continuing to build on the culture of our program," Lee said. "We have some great senior leadership from several senior players that have been in the program since their freshman year."
Among those returning seniors are DL/RB Marion Lawson, QB/WR/DB Kyle King, LB/OL Houston Scott, OL/DL Tyler Boggs, LB/FB Chris Hulmes, DE/OL Peyton Pack, WR/DB Brandon Honaker and P/K Owen Vogelsong.
Still, the Spartans have a good mixture of underclassmen who will be contributors, DB/CB Bryson Ornsby, LB/FB/TE/DE Nate Baker, QB/DB/WR Christian McNeely, WR/DB Braden Bragg, OL Logan Carr, OL/DL Jacob Wickline, OL/DL J.T. Spence and WR/RB/DB Colby Piner.
Princeton returns a prolific passing attack, led by quarterback Ranson Graham (176-316 for 2,013 and 14 TD), and wideouts Ethan Parsons (28-34604) and Josiah Honaker outside and A.J. Jenkins (31-418-1) and Brady Martin (10-83-0) at inside receiver.
"We're not going to change much, that's going to be our identity as we move forward," coach Chris Pedigo said. "Ranson will be looking to improve on a solid season."
The problem is: Who will block?
The Tigers have senior Jaylin Gore back on the line. They also have one of the area's most intriguing players in Logan Stepp, a 6-foot-10, 220-pound left tackle.
"Logan has tremendous upside, but has a lot of work to do on the field and in the weight room," Pedigo said. "After that, we have a lot of question marks and youth to fill the gaps."
As per usual, Woodrow Wilson is not at a loss for linemen. But Flying Eagles' coach Street Sarrett is looking for somebody to step up at some key positions.
"Our only concern will be replacing seniors we lost in key positions such as quarterback, running back and linebacker," Sarrett said.
Woodrow Wilson loses Peyton Shehan (289 rush, four TD, 800 passing, four TD), running back Micah Hancock (453-4) and the versatile Logan Cook.
But Sarrett does have an ace in the hole in veteran coach Eddie Souk, who has joined the staff.
Souk led Mount Hope to the 1988 state title and was the head coach at Oak Hill for several years after Mount Hope and Oak Hill consolidated.
"I'm excited to have him, he is a great asset to the program," Sarrett said.
The Eagles will be celebrating the 100th year of football this season as well.
"It should be an exciting year for Woodrow Wilson football," Sarrett said.
The phrase of the off season has been "Division I commitment" around the Bluefield team, which was the state runner-up last fall (falling to Fairmont 23-13) after winning the 2017 state championship. Running back J.J. Davis committed to Toledo.
Kicker Kaulin Parris signed with West Virginia.
Sean Martin had committed to North Carolina but Thursday reopened his recruitment. He is believed to be very interested in WVU but also is expected to take more official visits to other schools.
Several other players hold Division I offers.
It's a smorgasbord of talent for Freddy Simon and the Bluefield staff.
"It's nice to know that they have that talent," Simon said. "Now if they want to take it upon themselves to play up to that potential, then we are good. I think we will have a chance to possibly get back there, but there is a lot on their shoulders."
Davis led the team with 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns last fall for Bluefield, 12-2.
One battle to keep an eye on is the quarterback battle between returnee Carson Deeb (7 for 12, 123 yards), James Monroe transfer Ryker Brown and Tazewell transfer Jamir Blevins.
"We have three kids who can battle for (the quarterback job) and it is great to have that competition," Simon said.
John H. Lilly has added definite depth on his staff, Kevin Grogg and Joe Dean joining the Patriots assistant coaching ranks.
Lilly said the veteran coaches have already started to pay dividends.
Lilly, a veteran coach himself, said he likes what he has coming back.
"We need to build depth early," Lilly said. "We need to rebuild our kicking game with everyone graduated. Those are our two big areas of concern."
Mason Kump had two field goals for the Patriots last season. In fact he was the only player who scored a touchdown (4), kicked an extra point (6), had a two-point conversion (2) and had a field goal (2) last season.
The Patriots have an interesting mix of veterans and young players. Hayden Miller, a tight end/defensive end, Marcell Guy, a lineman, and QB Phillip Spurlock are veterans who will be impact players.
A young player to watch is sophomore Atticus Goodson, a 6-3, 225-pound prospect. His father John was an all-state lineman at Fayetteville and played on the 1992 Class A state championship team before going to WVU/Concord and his uncle Chris Grose was a star at Woodrow and was an outstanding fullback at Marshall.
Secondary concerns are primary concern for Chris Booth entering the 2019 season.
Big losses in the secondary could be pivotal in big games against the likes of Point Pleasant and Princeton, both of which have featured explosive passing games and Bluefield, which has an explosive offense either way.
Those are three of the final four games and could mean the difference between a playoff spot or staying at home for the second consecutive postseason.
"I'm most concerned about my safety positions," Booth said. "I lost an upcoming junior to a back injury, and it's doubtful he will play this season and we also lost a corner to graduation."
The good news is Monroe Mohler is back. The ball-hawking defensive back had six interceptions as a sophomore.
He will man one corner position.
For two seasons, Liberty has taken opponents' best shots against what was, in essence, a junior varsity team.
There is a bit of the unknown at Liberty.
When we last saw the Raiders, they were finishing the season with a 32-0 victory over a highly-favored Wyoming East team.
Proof that maybe Mark Workman's squad is maturing.
That is the major concern for Workman, a former prep star at Marsh Fork.
"Sometimes as a young football team, you need to be mature for your age to be successful," Workman said. "Juniors need to play like seniors, sophomores need to play like juniors. That first game against Westside (Aug. 20 at Westside) is always a pivotal game for us, so seeing where my guys stand in the maturity category will be pivotal for us."
At least in the off season, Workman was seeing some of the work paying off. Transitioning it to August will be another key.
"We've been young for the last two years, a lot of skill and athleticism," Workman said. "Maturity is a big key to go along with that. We have been pretty successful with our off season workouts, seeing some big gains in a lot of young kids. Now it's almost time to showcase that and see where we are at and where we need to get to in the future."
The Grizzlies are losing their one-two punch of running back Jacob O'Dell and quarterback Jared Sagraves.
Coach Gene Morris said the players working to replace them are progressing well. There is precedence, like two years ago when Sagraves replaced all-stater Tate Mayes.
The problem, Morris said, is depth.
"Our junior class has some very good athletes, but it's a low number of players," the veteran Grizzlies coach said. "We will have to look to the sophomore class for depth. Our total numbers were very good for our flex days."
Morris has helped turn the Grizzlies into an annual playoff participant with a stern defense and a prolific offense. Last year the Grizzlies advanced the second round of the Class AA playoffs.
The defense will once again be staunch, as Grizzlies defenses have been, posting 10 shutouts over the last three seasons.
Replacing O'Dell (1,545 yards and 31 touchdowns, area-best 201 points) and Sagraves (1,947 passing yards, 20 TD and 395 rush and nine TD) will be key.
But Morris has done it before.
The Red Devils enter the season in the dreaded double-transition year.
Yes, not only will Oak Hill try to transition players from the closing of Fayetteville into the Red Devil program (and possibly Valley, though no former Greyounds have yet committed to the program), but they also must replace nearly 4,000 yards of offense with the loss of Khori Bass and Abe Farrow, who led Oak Hill to the playoffs last season.
"It's a big question mark, replacing two kids like that," Blankenship said of Bass, a 1,000/1,000 player (after passing for 1,210 yards and rushing for 1,003). Farrow nearly pulled off the rare 1,000/1,000 combo (catching passes for 935 and rushing for 988).
That's a lot of firepower. And then there is the controversial consolidation of Fayetteville and Valley into Oak Hill.
"We are looking forward to making the transition as smooth as possible for them," Blankenship said. "We have about 10 from Fayetteville that have worked out with us. We haven't had any kids from Valley yet."
Maybe one can help the other.
Logan Frantz is one of the players who has been working out with the Red Devils. The son of former Fayetteville all-state football and baseball player Tim Frantz ran nearly 500 yards and threw for about 200 for the ground-oriented Pirates.
Valley running back Kaleb Crisp, who had a season-best 394 yards and five scores vs. Gilmer, reportedly will attend Riverside.
See Oak Hill.
PikeView is also losing a boatload of offense in Evan Rose (1,583 yards rushing) and a plethora of role players.
First-year coach Shawn Spears, who played for the 1999 undefeated Wyoming East state title team, knows what he faces.
And it is in the returning players' favor that they are getting a fresh look.
"We're trying to replace over 3,000 yards of total offense that graduated," Spears said. "I feel positive about finding players who are accepting the challenge of replacing seniors like Evan Rose, Logan Price, Jordan Vaughn, and Jarrod Ellison. Depth is a concern. I'm not afraid of playing underclassmen. Prove yourself and earn a spot and you will play. I don't care what grade you're in, I want players to step up as leaders."
Vince Culicerto has skill to burn. The problem is finding players to get them to the second and third level where they can use that speed.
"I'm concerned a little bit with the offensive and defensive lines," said Culicero, who lost all-stater Terymykal Alexander and two-way linemen Aaron Harmon and Austin Stover. The Tigers actually lost Stover for the rest of the year in the week 8 loss to Oak Hill.
"Other than that, we are returning lots of skill. We think we've got some boys to fill in and be fine."
Ian McKinney, who transferred over from Woodrow Wilson, is one. He is a 6-4, 320-pound senior.
And there is a lot of skill back, despite the loss of Tyler Bragg (1,066 yards). Back is quarterback Drew Clark (420 rush, six TD, 767 passing , 11 TD). Also back are running backs Haven Chapman (595 yards and right TD) and Isaiah Valentine, (401 yards despite missing four full games, 14 receptions, 239 yards).
Shady finished the season with three-straight wins (Clay County, Liberty and Pocahontas County) before falling 35-15 to R.C. Byrd in the playoffs.
The Wildcats had a throwback player in Caleb Richmond. He rushed for 1,646 yards and 20 TDs. He averaged 35.5 carries per game. He was the leading tackler at linebacker, averaging 11.8 tackles over game. He never left the field and he was always around the ball.
"He was our leader on both sides of the ball," coach Dwayne Reichard said. "Offensively we will have to spread the ball around to make up for the loss there. Defensively we will be depending on some kids who played around Richmond to fill his shoes. Kids like him don't come around very often."
The Wildcats did improve to 5-5 last year and won eight of their last 13 games, a significant improvement for Reichard.
The Wildcats had to replace two old Fayette County rivals on the schedule in Valley and Fayetteville, picking up Greenbrier West, a short trip, and East Hardy, a long ride. Fortunately, the East Hardy game is in Meadow Bridge this season.
Frank Isaacs has gotten Class A Midland Trail to a point where it reloads instead of rebuilds, not a simple feat on the Class A level.
A year after graduating their all-time leading rusher Thomas Ferris (2,042 yards rushing yards, 23 TD), Noah Minor, Hunter Darby and Dillon Brasse among others, the Patriots must replace more key players.
Among those are prolific quarterback and 1,000 rusher/passer Austin Isaacs, as well as a plethora of tough players like Hunter Jones, Trevor Harrell, Cordell Lesher, Nathan Hanshew and Morgan Ferris.
These players combined for 21 wins the last two seasons.
The quarterback spot will be tough, but then Chris Vines, the heir apparent to Isaacs, made a cameo in place of injured Isaacs and won a playoff game against Sherman.
"Obviously losing Austin, who was arguably one of the better quarterbacks to ever come through Midland Trail, will be difficult to replace," coach Isaacs said. "But like I have told all these kids, we do not expect them to replace the players that they are playing in the same position, we want them to make names for themselves, have fun and create their own legacies. We expect Chris to be Chris and he will play differently, lead differently but we think the end result will be the same, he will pile up wins."
He does have a brigade of returning lineman back, the famed Great Wall of Hico.
Coach Gary Roach has been around the Richwood program for a few years. Last fall was a strange one for the Lumberjacks but once the smoke cleared from the season collapse, the well-liked assistant emerged as the head coach.
He is hoping the offensive line and running back situation is straightened out by the start of the season.
Caleb Jantauh, who has proven to be a versatile player in his first two seasons, is taking over at quarterback full time. With his numbers, Jantauh will be, at least early, the main contributor.
"I don't want to overuse him early in the season," Roach said. "We will be looking at a freshman, Keaton Crowder, who has grown two inches and gained 15 pounds since March and junior Doye Ward (5-10, 210 pounds), who gives us more of power back. He doesn't have any real game time carries because has been used as a fullback."
The Lumberjacks look to be using four sophomores and one junior on the line.
Three were starters last year and the others started on defense.
"This can be the best line we have had, strength-wise and athletically," Roach said. "They are smart and they understand the different defensive fronts and how you have to block different look."
Like most teams, Summers County coach Chris Vicars, who has had the Bobcats in the playoffs in his first two seasons, is looking for added bodies, but, with the graduation of key contributors (Christian Pack, Marcus McGuire, Sam Wykle to name three) there are additional needs.
"My major concerns for this year would be experience and depth," Vicars said. "We have athletic and talented kids, but not a lot of Friday night experience."
Line play is often a problem at small schools, as well.
"Another thing we must figure out would be the offensive and defensive lines," Vicars said. "There are just some question marks there right now."