Every football team in West Virginia — heck, every team in the country — had some catching up to do to get ready for the 2020 season after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
In our state, preseason practices for high schools were pushed back two weeks and one week was cut from both preseason practice and the regular season. Now, picture yourself as a first-year coach trying to get a foothold in your new program, and you know what Joey Fields has gone through at Herbert Hoover.
On top of all that, Hoover’s students are still taking classes in portables at Elkview Middle School, since their new building isn’t set to open until 2022, replacing the one destroyed in a flood. The football players still have to ride several miles to get to their field. Their coach, however, isn’t accepting any condolences as he tries to get the Huskies back in the thick of the Class AA playoff hunt. Hoover, 4-6 last year, hasn’t been in the postseason since 2016.
“I’ve had conversations with a couple of coaches,’’ Fields said, “and everyone feels that catch-up thing. But at the same time, it’s full speed ahead when you put the pads on and you put the helmets on. Everybody’s even, and it comes down to hard work and one play at a time.
“I don’t want us to use that as an excuse. There are a lot of things we’re having to build and cover that don’t involve being on the field necessarily. We want to build a program and build a culture.’’
Fields has some pieces to the puzzle to work with as he takes over at Hoover, including senior quarterback Nick Grayam (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), last year’s starter. Grayam ran for 367 yards and seven touchdowns last season and threw for 553 yards and four scores despite missing one game with an injury.
The Huskies lost leading rusher Ben Kee, but three experienced ball-carriers return in seniors Zach Paxton (5-11, 185) and Tyler Greer (5-9, 143) and junior Hunter Bartley (5-9, 185). Paxton ran for 355 yards and four TDs a year ago, Bartley for 193 yards and two TDs and Greer for 141 yards with two scores.
Hoover lost 20 of its 29 receptions from last season when junior Nathan Harper transferred to George Washington. The receiving candidates are now led by senior Austin Hanson and sophomores Jacob Burns (6-0, 136), Andrew Rollyson (5-8, 145) and Brayden Jones. Senior Trey Chapman (6-5, 235), who had five catches for 100 yards last season, mans the tight end spot along with senior Christian Buckley.
There’s some experience on the offensive line, which is comprised of senior Brayden Rollyson (6-0, 217) and junior Caleb Bias (5-11, 215) at tackle, senior Sam Kirk (5-10, 200) and junior Brock Truman (5-11, 190) at guard and sophomore Connor Brinckman (6-3, 195) at center. Junior Dalton Bowers (6-3, 281) is also pushing for playing time at tackle.
An intriguing addition to the defensive line is senior tackle Frank Early (6-6, 320), a first-year player who has previously caught some attention as a Huskies basketball player.
“He’s aggressive and moves well,’’ Fields said of Early. “I’m very impressed with him in his first year.’’
Others along the defensive line are Brayden Rollyson, sophomore Gaven Allison (6-0, 175) and Chapman at end, along with Bowers, senior Reid Stone (5-11, 26) and junior Caleb Hill at the tackle spots.
Outside linebackers figure to be Greer and Bartley, with Paxton and Truman as inside backers, with senior Dylan Kennedy (5-10, 190) also getting a look.
In the secondary, it’s Burns and junior Wyatt Baldwin (6-0, 145) at cornerback and Hanson and Andrew Rollyson at safety.