Doddridge County is set to unveil its brand-spanking-new football field — Cline Stansberry Stadium, complete with gleaming artificial turf — on Aug. 30 against South Harrison.
But the Bulldogs wouldn’t mind something old to go along with that something new. In a nutshell, they’d like an instant replay of the season they turned in last year, and the season that Hunter America had in particular.
America erupted into one of the state’s finest football players as a junior in 2018, rushing for 2,829 yards and 40 touchdowns and leading Doddridge into the Class A playoff semifinals with a school-record 12 victories. It marked just the fifth unbeaten regular season in school history for a program that began exactly 100 years ago.
Not only did the Bulldogs pick up their first postseason wins since 1999, America became the first Doddridge athlete to capture one of the major football awards handed out by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association when he received the Curt Warner Award as the state’s top running back. Warner, the former Pineville flash, won the Kennedy Award as the state’s best player in 1978 before starring at Penn State and in the NFL.
“He just exploded onto the scene,’’ Bulldogs coach Bobby Burnside said of America. “He had 195 yards and six touchdowns [against South Harrison] in Week 1, then 400-plus yards against Tyler Consolidated in Week 2. He rushed for 40 touchdowns, had 41 total touchdowns. Just a tremendous season.’’
Making it even more impressive: America played only four full games, as the Bulldogs won 10 times by 26-plus points. In two games, he was out by halftime; in two others, he played a quarter or less.
Of course, when a player has a breakout season like America’s, he becomes the focal point of every opponent’s defense the following season. Both Burnside and America realize as much.
“I’m sure everyone’s emphasis when they play us is to stop Hunter America,’’ Burnside said. “I think it’ll be a challenge. We graduated some good linemen, but we’ve got some good ones back. I think Hunter is primed and ready to have another great season. We’ll just have to work hard.’’
America, who lugged the ball exactly 300 times last season, is prepared for another heavy-duty workload.
“If it happens, it happens,’’ he said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team out. If I’ve got to run the ball, I’ll run the ball. We work as a team; I don’t want to take full credit. We’ll definitely prepare ourselves for the season. My goal is just to have another great season.’’
When America earned the Warner Award, it certainly raised the profile of the Doddridge County program, which before last year had made the playoffs just three times since 2000.
“It was exciting for Hunter and for our team and the school and the whole county, everyone,’’ Burnside said.
“But what really made it special was that we honored our 1978 team last year that beat Curt Warner to advance to the state finals. Cline Stansberry, who coached that team, is still alive and goes to all the ballgames. He was part of that team being honored. People really enjoy watching Hunter run and winning that award and being third in the Kennedy race was really special.’’
So how does America get it done? At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, he’s certainly not large for a running back, even if his numbers are.
“My vision, my explosion,’’ America said. “Just being able to read the holes. Juke moves.’’
Burnside acknowledged that America’s shiftiness comes into play, but stressed that he’s not a one-trick pony when it comes to being a workhorse.
“He changes directions at almost full speed,’’ Burnside said. “He has very fast acceleration and a low center of gravity. Most games, you can see his ability to make tremendous cuts. He can cut on a dime, gets a lot of yards after contact and has the ability to break long runs.
“But we had a couple of games last year where the playing conditions were pretty bad, and he showed then that he can run north-south with a lot of power, too.’’