Monday is all about new beginnings for high school football teams around West Virginia, as the first day of preseason practice arrives.
For Capital, however, there is a certain amount of tradition riding on the upcoming season. The Cougars enter 2019 as the only Class AAA team in the state to have reached the playoff semifinals six straight years. Martinsburg, which has captured seven of the last nine AAA titles, missed the semis in 2015.
Even with heavy graduation losses, which included quarterback and WVU recruit Kerry Martin Jr., a two-time first-team All-Stater, Capital coach Jon Carpenter has a lot to like with his current team. He thinks the Cougars can keep it going this season.
“I think so,’’ Carpenter said. “We’ve got to have some people grow up. We’ve got a real good freshman class, and we’re going to have to start some young people in some spots. I think a lot of them guys may play someplace.
“I try to tell them that every year, you lose some [players] and all them people over at GoMart tell you you’re going to be done by Halloween. Somebody will step up. We just take it one day at a time and try to have fun. It’ll work out.’’
So you can’t blame the Cougars, even as they forge ahead for this season, for taking a look back at what they’ve accomplished. Carpenter always tells his teams he’d rather ruin their Thanksgiving holiday — that is, practicing for the state semifinals — than ruin their summer vacation.
“I definitely think this team can get there again,’’ said senior receiver Chance Knox. “We did lose a good senior class last year, but it’s all a question of getting out there again and getting the little things down, getting the keys down. Hopefully, we can get past that edge again. I can’t really tell you now what it is we need to do if we get to that point. But I know it’s going to be the little things — no penalties, and getting past that hump.’’
Capital lost 22 seniors from last year’s squad, including all four of its All-State players — Martin, defensive linemen Kalai Clark and Breece Hoff and defensive back Quisean Gray. Martin finished fourth in the Kennedy Award balloting for the state’s top player and is now playing defensive back for the Mountaineers.
But the players who do return for Capital think they can overcome those losses.
“One, we’ve got to realize they’re not here no more,’’ said senior defensive back Karrington Hill. “So we’re the upperclassmen. We’ve got to set the example. We’ve got to do what we’re supposed to do. We’ve got to make sure we take care of the little things, and make sure we have the season we want to have because I know I ain’t trying to end it [the string of semifinal runs], and I know [my teammates] ain’t trying to end it.
“We’ve got to make sure everything’s the way it needs to be. Make sure everybody comes to practice on time. Make sure we set the example for the upcoming freshmen.’’
Kerion Martin, a senior safety and younger brother of Kerry Martin, thinks that relationships between the team’s returning players and the talented newcomers can help maintain Capital’s recent success.
“I believe we have to build strong relationships with everybody on the team,’’ Kerion Martin said, “because like a lot of coaches say, a team that has a strong bond, they usually win a lot of games. And I’m a strong believer in that. So I believe that if we have good relationships with everyone on the team, then we’ll go a long way.’’
Carpenter said the return of senior defensive back-running back Tay Calloway should provide another leader in the fold. Calloway played at Capital as a freshman, South Charleston as a sophomore and Nitro last year.
“His leadership will be good for us,’’ Carpenter said. “He started a couple of games for us as a freshman. He’s a great football player, and he knows how it is here. What’s great is that he was never scared to compete. Sometimes kids jump for a promise, for flashy things. But he’s back, and he’s going to do a lot of good for those younger kids waiting their turn.
“I think we’ve got a lot of good, young football players. I told them the other day, I think a couple of them are going to be household names there in a couple months, so it’s exciting.’’
Another running back who figures to take a big step forward is sophomore Shawn James (6-foot, 180 pounds), who flashed some ability in limited touches last season, averaging 7.4 yards on 27 carries. He ran for three touchdowns and added a scoring reception.
Capital’s regular season opens Aug. 30 with a home game against Kentucky power Johnson Central.
Teams in West Virginia can begin wearing pads at practice on Friday, and the first day live contact is allowed is Aug. 13. Scrimmage games can be held starting on Aug. 17.