Prep football practice opens in West Virginia

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Zach Davis begins his third season as Riverside coach.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, since high school football teams in West Virginia now have flex days they can use in the spring and a three-week practice period that begins in June.

When players around the state report for the beginning of official preseason practice on Monday, some coaches hope they have all hands on deck, and that some players aren’t still bothered by nagging injuries that cropped up during those various summer drills.

“That’s gotten to be the biggest worry,” Riverside coach Zach Davis said of preseason workouts. “With all these 7 on 7s and different camps the guys go to in the three-week period, you worry about them being healthy for when practice starts.”

However, the first few days of drills, which used to be mostly about conditioning, now see teams — especially the ones returning a lot of starters — further along when they report, thanks to increased off-season work.

Teams aren’t permitted to practice in pads until Friday, with the first day of live contact on Aug. 8. The first set of scrimmages and grid-o-ramas comes on Aug. 12, the second round on Aug. 18-19 and the regular season kicks off the weekend of Aug. 24-26.

Three of the Kanawha Valley’s 12 teams — Buffalo, Hurricane and St. Albans — are scheduled to open practice with midnight workouts late Sunday/early Monday. Buffalo is the only Kanawha Valley school with a first-year coach as former Bison assistant Brian Batman takes over for Mike Sawyer, who stepped down after 15 seasons.

Winfield, for a second straight year, plans to have a midnight practice on Aug. 8, the first day of live contact.

Eight of the Valley’s 12 teams are coming off playoff seasons, with Capital (9-4) having the longest advance, reaching the Class AAA semifinals before losing 20-14 at Spring Valley. It marked the fourth straight time the Cougars had played in the state semis.

With players returning such as quarterback Kerry Martin Jr., receiver Anthony Pittman, running backs Deshaun James and Kalai Clark, Capital is again expected to be in the mix of playoff contenders.

Still, coach Jon Carpenter is willing to remain patient as this year’s group starts its own journey.

“We’ve got some people that can play some coming back,” Carpenter said, “but we’re just going to go out and have fun and get better. We think it’s important to get better as you go along and not try to fix it all in Day 1 or Week 1. Take it easy and keep getting better each week.”

Carpenter said he learned his approach working with the late Dick Whitman, the former DuPont coach.

“Dick Whitman used to tell me that all the time,” Carpenter said. “Lay the foundation, get better each day and build yourself up. That’s what we try to do.”

The other area teams hoping to repeat their playoff appearances include — AAA: George Washington (8-4), Hurricane (7-5), South Charleston (7-5); AA: Sissonville (9-2), Herbert Hoover (7-4), Winfield (7-4); and A: Buffalo (7-4).

George Washington returns not only its starting quarterback (Grant Wells), tailback (Jonathan McClung) and fullback (Aidan Johnson), but also saw Buffalo all-stater and tight end Owen Tillis (6-foot-3, 248 pounds) transfer in from Putnam County.

“He’s a big guy who can get open, and he catches the ball well,” said GW coach Steve Edwards Jr.

However, GW loses four seniors from its offensive line. Edwards said all-state linebacker Tanner Williams will need to play a little more on the O-line to help solidify the front wall for the Patriots.

One Kanawha County school that’s seen its head coach deal with health issues in recent years is Nitro, but Bryce Casto reports to preseason camp feeling fit.

“This is the best I’ve felt in my time at Nitro,” said Casto, who begins his third season with the Wildcats.

Casto spent a few days in the hospital just before Nitro reported for preseason workouts in 2015, experiencing pulmonary embolisms in both lungs. He spent a few days in the hospital while the blood clots were broken up, but was present for the start of practice.

“My first year I went from the ICU to the ballfield in 11 days, and that doesn’t work out so hot,” said the 57-year-old Casto, “then last year I had adjustments with my leg. Finally I feel like myself. It’s been that way all winter, knock on wood. It’s been very refreshing.”

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

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