George Washington coach Steve Edwards Jr. has a lot of returning talent to work with this season.
Yes, the calendar says July, but high school football is upon us.
Teams around West Virginia attempt to get a head start on the coming season with the opening of preseason practice on Monday.
The first day teams around the state can wear pads is Friday, with the first live contact allowed on Aug. 7. Scrimmage games and grid-o-ramas can begin on Aug. 11, with the opening weekend of games set for Aug. 23-25.
Some teams figure to get more of a head start than others, especially George Washington, last year's Class AAA state runner-up.
The Patriots return the quarterback who took every snap for 14 games last year (Trevor Bell), as well as a Kennedy Award-winning running back who carried nearly 300 times (Ryan Switzer) and a bruising fullback who doubles as one of the state's top linebackers (Dustin Crouser).
Switzer, who has committed to North Carolina, ran for 2,796 yards and scored a total of 45 touchdowns - 40 rushing, two on receptions, two on interception returns and another on a punt runback.
Bell, meanwhile, completed 53 percent of his passes for 1,176 yards and 16 touchdowns. Crouser, himself a Division I prospect, led the interference that allowed Switzer to break off 21 scoring runs of 30 yards or longer, and even though he toted the ball only 58 times, Crouser averaged 6.8 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns.
The presence of those three players doubtlessly puts GW quite a few steps ahead of many of its competitors who are breaking in new backfields this week.
"Certainly, it is an advantage for us as a coaching staff and a team in general,'' said Patriots coach Steve Edwards Jr. "We've got a solid quarterback and our backfield coming back. We're very fortunate that the retention is very high with our kids, and also we don't change much [schematically from season to season], so we can start out pretty quick.
"We did lose some good skill players and some key linemen, but we have some kids who have an opportunity to step up and make a name for themselves.''
Rightfully, Edwards and his staff hold high hopes for their squad entering the season as they try to match or improve upon a 13-1 showing - losing only to defending champion Martinsburg 35-27 in the finals - while extending their regular-season win streak to 26 straight games.
Most of those expectations, however, are tempered by the knowledge that GW must break in three new starting offensive linemen to provide the blocking for Switzer, Crouser, Bell and others.
"It's going to be a challenge for us up front,'' Edwards said. "You lose guys like Austin Rosencrance, Tylor Williams and David Adkins, you're losing some pretty good quality guys right there who had been with us and started for two, three years. They're not real big guys, but they're solid performers.
"We've got some guys who are working real hard in the off-season. Hopefully they'll be able to step in there and fill some holes for us. Those are the fun challenges you have when you're putting together a team. You've got to have good quality behind those people on the line. You've got to get those guys to crack open the seams to have a chance for those skill-position guys you have in your backfield.''
George Washington was one of just three Kanawha Valley teams to make the playoffs last year, a historically low total. Hurricane (Class AAA) and Buffalo (A) were the others.
The Redskins (8-4) won a wild first-round game against Elkins 54-30 before being erased by GW in the quarterfinals 33-6. The Bison (7-4), meanwhile, fell at No. 5 seed East Hardy 48-15 in the opening round.
Edwards said GW had solid participation in its summer workouts preparing for preseason drills.
"We had more kids at practice throughout the summer than we've had in several years,'' he said. "But you don't know if they'll stick with you. I think all the people we're counting on will be there - I'm hoping so, anyway.''
With a good season, Bellaire St. John's (Ohio) should petition for a spot in the West Virginia playoffs. The Irish, located across the Ohio River from Wheeling and a few miles south, play six state teams - Paden City, Bishop Donahue, Clay-Battelle, Valley Wetzel, Sherman and Cameron. By comparison, the teams that met in the 2010 Class A state finals - Wheeling Central and Wahama - play a total of six West Virginia teams this year.
"The View'' from here - Between Sept. 21 and Oct. 5, Wyoming East plays three straight games against similarly named teams - Mount View, River View and PikeView.
Only 13 teams return from the AA playoff field last year, since Point Pleasant and Shady Spring moved up to AAA and Greenbrier West dropped to Class A.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org