For a guy who just lost a three-time 1,000-yard rusher and a 2,000-yard passer to graduation, Hurricane coach Jeremy Taylor is feeling pretty good about things.
Even though it will be difficult to replace tailback Christian Hill and quarterback Austin Womack, Taylor thinks his squad can actually improve this season from the one that went 4-7 and earned the program’s ninth Class AAA playoff berth in the past 10 seasons.
“Yeah, the quarterback’s new and the tailback’s new,’’ Taylor said, “and we have to replace three of five starters on the offensive line. But I think we can be better than we were last year. We’ll definitely be better on the offensive line — a lot better. And we’re doing stuff a little bit different with our personnel, and we think we have the right scheme in place.’’
The new quarterback is junior Ismael Borrero (6-foot-1, 185 pounds), who got to play a bit last season in relief of Womack. Borrero hit on 11 of 22 passes for 103 yards and threw a touchdown against South Charleston. Taylor likes the balance to Borrero’s game.
“Ismael brings a dynamic we haven’t had there,’’ Taylor said. “He can run. He’s fast, and he can take one 80 yards if we need him to. He’s definitely faster than anyone we’ve had [at quarterback].’’
The tailback spot could be “a three-man band’’ according to Taylor, featuring senior Tyrone Washington (6-1, 185) and sophomores Elijah Rivera (5-7, 150) and Jeremiah Riffle (6-1, 195). Washington, the team’s second-leading tackler as a linebacker last season, did not carry the ball but is expected to get the first crack at the ball-carrying position.
“Riffle can be a gamebreaker,’’ Taylor said, “once he figures out he’s bigger, stronger and faster than everyone else. He can be hard to stop.’’
The receiving corps appears to be in good hands, led by senior Chase Hager (5-9, 165), who caught 40 passes last year for 485 yards and five TDs. JT James (6-1, 170) is the other receiver, with fellow junior Brogan Brown (6-1, 215) at H-back. Brown led the Redskins in tackles last season and James was third. Sophomore Lucas Rippetoe (6-0, 195) lines up at tight end.
“A lot of them have played before at different positions,’’ Taylor said of his skill players, “and at receiver, there will really be no dropoff there.’’
The leader of the offensive line is senior guard Garrett Green (6-2, 275), an All-State candidate who moves over from center to better serve the offense’s new approach. Sophomore Christian Kelley (6-0, 230) mans the other guard position, with junior Caden Johnson (6-3, 275) at center and seniors Deacon Paivanas (6-3, 290) and Isiah Williams (5-11, 240) at tackle.
With the team’s top three tacklers returning, the defense should be stronger than last season.
James and junior Jackson Ludwig (6-1, 225) start at defensive end, flanking inside linemen Johnson and Williams. The linebackers are Washington, Brown and sophomore Gavin Piepiora (5-9, 170). The all-sophomore secondary features Rippetoe, Heath Montgomery (6-0, 145), Bryson Murrell (5-9, 160) and Caden Williams (5-8, 140).
“Defensively,’’ Taylor said, “we’ll run to the ball and do what we always do. We’ve got a bunch of kids who have got to go both ways, but we have a good mixture of kids we can mix and match in there. In the end, you’ve got to have your studs in there — Brogan, JT James and Garrett Green.
“We’ve got some kids who can play — maybe 20 who can actually play football on Friday nights — and everyone else is the younger kids. They can develop in the [junior varsity] ranks, but we’ve got to find out a way to win now.’’