Check the track record of St. Albans coach Scott Tinsley, and you’ll find that his teams often make a significant jump in their second season.
In 1995, Tinsley became offensive coordinator and quarterback guru at Nitro — working with a promising freshman named J.R. House — and the Wildcats went 4-6. But the following year, they were 7-4 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1960.
Tinsley took over as Nitro’s head coach in 2002 and went 5-5 as the program experienced its fourth straight non-playoff season. However, the next year brought an 8-3 record and the first postseason berth since the 1998 team captured the Class AAA championship.
So can Tinsley and SA duplicate some of that second-year magic? The Red Dragons went 1-9 in his return to his alma mater last year.
“We have a really good chance to be better,’’ Tinsley said. “How much better, I don’t know. Ask me three weeks from now once we get into pads and we can see how the new kids are going to react to real live football. I’ll probably be able to answer the question better then.’’
Tinsley has been working with between 35 and 40 players since practice began on Monday, including some recognizable names.
Senior Jayson Barrett, who’s done a little bit of everything the past two seasons, is back to energize the offense.
As a sophomore, Barrett was the team’s main quarterback. Last year, he was the top rusher with 873 yards and 11 touchdowns despite missing two games. This year, he projects as the team’s most-dangerous receiver.
“We’ve got to get his hands on the ball,’’ Tinsley said, “because he can make people miss.’’
Another name to watch is freshman quarterback Robert Alexander, son of Robert Alexander, the former two-time Kennedy Award-winning running back from South Charleston and Parade All-American who played at WVU and in the NFL. The younger Alexander goes by “R.T.’’
“We’ve got a really good quarterback,’’ Tinsley said, “but he’s a freshman. Even when J.R. [House] was a freshman, we went 4-6. So I know there’s going to be some learning — obviously a lot of learning involved, and him adjusting to the speed of the game. That first game against Parkersburg, it will be interesting to see how that goes.
“But my philosophy will be we can take whatever they give us. If they really stack up against the run, we think we can throw. If they spread it out, we think we can run. Offensively, it just depends on how the offensive line comes through to how good we can be.’’
Tinsley also expects to start seven or eight new faces on defense.
“You may say that’s not good to replace so many,’’ Tinsley said. “But I’m not so sure it isn’t good.’’
The Red Dragons allowed an average of 47 points per game last season.
St. Albans hasn’t been in the AAA playoffs since losing to Parkersburg in the 2007 title game, and hasn’t had more than three wins in a season since 2008.
Not him again!
When Jefferson coach Craig Hunter found out that receiver Isaac Brown was transferring from Martinsburg for his senior season, he probably breathed a sigh of relief. But it didn’t last long.
Brown, who scored key touchdowns each of the past two years against Jefferson, transferred to nearby Millbrook, Virginia, which comes to Jefferson to open the season on Aug. 25.
Last year, Brown caught a pass for the game’s first touchdown as Martinsburg topped Jefferson 42-6.
In 2015, Brown caught six balls for 25 yards in the Bulldogs’ victory against the Cougars, including a big 8-yard TD toss with 16 seconds remaining in the half, breaking the game open for a 23-7 lead in a game Martinsburg eventually won 37-20.
Brown won the Gatorade player of the year award in West Virginia last year, catching 64 passes for 981 yards and 12 TDs.
Nine can be enough
Van coach Shane Griffith isn’t worried that his team only has nine regular-season games. He’s seen up close and personal that nine-game schedules can still get you to the playoffs.
“One thing I was looking at there,’’ Griffith said, “is that I watched Bluefield for years playing nine games and playing nine games — because no one wanted to play them. And they still did pretty well.’’
The Beavers played in the Class AA state finals in Wheeling nine times from 1995-2009, winning four titles.
“Then,’’ Griffith added with a wince, “I was the crazy one who scheduled them at Laidley Field.’’
Scott and Bluefield met four straight years from 2006-09 at a neutral site in Charleston, the stadium then known as Laidley Field, with the Beavers winning all four times.
Capital coach Jon Carpenter maintains his sense of humor year-round.
In Carpenter’s first interview of the season, when asked what priority No. 1 was for the start of preseason practice, he couldn’t resist.
“Making sure we can get 1 yard on a quarterback sneak,’’ Carpenter deadpanned.
He was referencing Capital’s fateful possession late in last year’s Class AAA playoff semifinal at Spring Valley.
With 4:55 left and the game tied at 14, the Cougars faced fourth-and-inches from inside the Timberwolves’ 2-yard line, but the front wall couldn’t push the pile forward enough to get a first down, and perhaps regain the lead. Spring Valley then went 99 yards to score the winning TD with 36 seconds remaining and earned a trip to the Super Six in Wheeling.
Huntington returns gobs of skill-position talent in players like tailback-defensive back Jadon Hayes (a second-team all-stater), receiver and Division I football-basketball prospect Mikal Dawson and quarterback Luke Zban.
However, if the Highlanders are to make the Class AAA playoffs for a seventh straight season, they’ll need to develop the guys who toil in front of those offensive game-changers.
“One of the big things we want to find out is who can play up front on both sides of the ball,’’ said Huntington coach Billy Seals. “Football is still a game of who’s better up front, in my opinion. If you do well on the offensive line and defensive line, we feel we can be in the game and have an opportunity to win some games.’’