GW's Ryan Switzer is one of eight juniors to win the Kennedy Award as the state's top player since the honor's inception in 1947.
DON'T LOOK NOW, but the high school football season in West Virginia is a little more than a week away, with the start of preseason practice on July 30.With that in mind, here's a quick look at the upcoming season around the state, covering everything from A to Z:A - Alexander alert: Junior Jon Alexander returns at quarterback for South Charleston, the 2008-09 state champion who wants to make amends for last year's 5-5 finish and miss of the playoffs. Alexander threw for 1,067 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.B - Brooke's Bruney bows out: Coach Tom Bruney, who revived the sagging football fortunes at one-time powerhouse Brooke, stepped down citing health concerns and was replaced by Sean Blumette. Bruney went 29-9 in three seasons, including back-to-back appearances in the Class AAA title game (2010-11). Prior to that, it had been 18 years since the Bruins made it that far - they played in seven championship games from 1980-92 and won three state crowns.
C - Bruce Carey: The longtime Bridgeport coach, who took the Indians to the 2000 AA championship and made them one of the top contenders in AAA when they moved up a class, has come out of retirement to coach at neighboring rival Robert C. Byrd. Carey stepped down after the 2009 season because of health issues.D - Megan DeBastiani: A place-kicker and refugee from the school's soccer program, she might be one of the top scorers for AAA contender Morgantown, which has averaged 38 points per game over the last two seasons and figures to try a lot of extra points. DeBastiani was a goalkeeper on the Mohigans' AAA girls soccer state championship team last fall.E - Elijah Wellman, Spring Valley: In some circles, the debate has already begun about who deserves the Huff Award as the state's top defensive player, Wellman or George Washington's Dustin Crouser, both AAA returning first-team all-state linebackers and Division I prospects.F - Fearsome first four: Only one team in West Virginia opens against four straight state playoff teams from a year ago - Clay County. The Panthers try to improve on a 2-8 showing last year by starting out against Roane County, Braxton County (AA quarterfinalist), Ritchie County and Valley Fayette (A quarterfinalist).G - David Gaydosz, Cabell Midland: Last year at Winfield, Gaydosz became the program's first running back in more than a generation to go over 1,000 yards in a season before transferring. The Knights will know what to do with him: Under first-year coach Luke Salmons, Midland ran for 3,500 yards and 35 TDs in 12 games last fall.H - Henderson makeover: Not only is the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge over the Kanawha River being replaced in a $23.6 million project, but the football programs at either end of the span are undergoing their own reconstructions. New coaches at St. Albans (Steve Stoffel Jr.) and Nitro (Derek Midkiff) hope to revive their school's successes. Since SA appeared in the 2007 AAA title game, it's gone 11-29 and Nitro just 5-35.I - Instate increase: Wheeling Central met only one West Virginia school in the 2010 regular season (non-SSAC member Linsly), but now plays four - including Magnolia (2010 AA titlist), Madonna (2009 A titlist), resurgent Bishop Donahue (Class A quarterfinalist last season) and crosstown rival Linsly (18-2 last two years).J - Joint jeopardy: James Monroe, Jefferson and John Marshall - the state's three J schools - each missed the playoffs in both 2010 and 2011.K - Kickoffs at 7 p.m. Who's in? Seventeen schools around the state now start their home games at 7. Makes sense for far-flung local leagues like the MSAC and Cardinal Conference to follow suit because of all the travel involved.L - Liberty Harrison and Liberty Raleigh: One common opponent - Webster County. The Highlanders' rallying cry, however, better not be, "Give me Liberty!'' Because they've lost four of six to those schools the past three seasons.M - Martinsburg: Two-time defending Class AAA champion who brings a 28-game winning streak into the season. The Bulldogs are the fourth straight school to earn a repeat title in AAA, following Morgantown (2004-05), Parkersburg (2006-07) and South Charleston (2008-09), and look to become just the second team to win three straight since the AAA division began in 1958. Charleston High accomplished the feat 1968-70.
N - November of 2013: The target date for Cabell Midland statistician Dennis Ball to reach 400 straight games. Ball, 69, began his streak charting games at alma mater Milton in 1976 and moved over to Midland when Barboursville and Milton consolidated in 1994. He begins his 37th season crunching numbers with a 380-game streak, working for coaches Todd Fugate and Richard Williams at Milton, and Jim Thornburg, Chip McMillian and now Luke Salmons at Cabell Midland. Of course, the Knights can move up that historic date by making a playoff run this season.O - O for the season: Six state teams went winless last year and tote double-digit losing streaks into the current season - Mount View (27), Tolsia (16), Nitro (15), Sherman (14), Hundred (10) and John Marshall (10).P - Point Pleasant: The state AA runner-up is one of five playoff teams from last year to land in a new division following SSAC reclassification. Going from AAA to AA are rivals Bridgeport and Robert C. Byrd, from AA to AAA Point and Shady Spring and from AA to A Greenbrier West. That doesn't even count Magnolia, the 2010 AA champ who drops to single-A (the Blue Eagles finished 17th in the ratings last year and just missed the postseason).Q - Ben Queen Photography: Quality action shots from Bridgeport games, like the ones on Page 1B and 3B.R - Ravenswood: Looking to regain the form that brought the Red Devils to the 2010 AA championship game, they replaced the retiring Dick Sturm with a coach who knows a thing or two about state titles - Mick Price - who won two crowns as the school's longtime boys basketball coach, a post he will also retain.S - Ryan Switzer: George Washington tailback, North Carolina recruit and returning Kennedy Award winner who ran for 2,796 yards and scored 45 touchdowns last fall. Of the eight previous juniors to win the award, four went on to capture it again as seniors.
T - Ten games: For once, perennial Class AA contender Bluefield is able to schedule a full complement of games. In four of the previous seven seasons, the Beavers were limited to nine games (with two byes) because willing opponents were hard to find.U - Under center: The only returning first-team all-state quarterback is Adam Weeks of Shady Spring, which vaults from AA to AAA this season. Weeks threw for 2,293 yards and 27 TDs last year, and returns his top receiver in Chase Connor (30 receptions, 912 yards, 14 TDs).V - Valley: The new "home'' team in Montgomery. Following the demise of the football program at WVU Tech, perhaps the only games going on at Martin Field this fall will be those of the Greyhounds from Fayette County, who have one year left on their agreement to play on Tech's turf.W - Wood County, king of high school football: All four Wood County teams reached the playoffs last year - Parkersburg, Parkersburg Catholic, Parkersburg South and Williamstown - for the second time since 2004. No other county in the state had more than three teams in the postseason last year. Fittingly, the Wood four went 4-4 in the playoffs.X - Braxton County: Only school in the state with an X in its name. Hey, it's either that or X-ray, and nobody in football likes X-rays.Y - Yards, as in passing yards: His numbers don't approach someone like J.R. House, the former Nitro all-stater, but Buffalo quarterback Levi Jordan enters his senior season with 4,373 career passing yards, 42 TD tosses and 14 more scores on 2-point conversions. He's also run for 513 yards and eight TDs. Jordan, who has started at QB for the Bison in 25 straight games, owns 11 career 200-yard passing yards and one 300-yarder (315 versus Notre Dame last year).
n Z - Zero, as in the number of Kanawha Valley teams in the double-A playoffs last year. The proud programs of Poca (4-6), Herbert Hoover (2-8) and Sissonville (2-8) combined to go 8-22 competing in the Cardinal Conference.Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com