Herbert Hoover made some noise in the Class AA playoffs last year, winning five regular-season games in 22 days against a COVID-wracked schedule to snag the No. 13 seed, then knocked off previously unbeaten Liberty Raleigh on the road to reach the quarterfinals.
The Huskies could continue the clamor this season as they return several key players, along with an influx of talent that’s transferred to the Elk River school.
Leading the way for Hoover are versatile senior Devin Hatfield, the team’s top receiver, along with junior defensive back Andrew Rollyson, senior running back Hunter Bartley, senior guard-linebacker Brock Truman, junior wideout Jacob Burns, senior lineman Caleb Bias and junior lineman Connor Brinkman. They all helped the Huskies go 5-2 in the regular season and win that first-round playoff game at No. 4 Liberty before falling to No. 5 Oak Glen in the quarterfinals.
Those successes marked Hoover’s first postseason berth since 2016 and its first playoff win since 2015. And as Joey Fields begins his second season as coach, the outlook appears even brighter for the Huskies, especially with the new additions to the program.
Among the transfers joining Hoover are Capital lineman Isaiah Chapman, son of Joel Chapman, the 1990 Hunt Award winner for the Cougars; Logan defensive lineman Caden Dotson, who had 12 sacks in just six games last year; Belfry, Kentucky, twin brothers Brenden Rash (safety) and Braden Rash (linebacker) and Scott lineman Ryan Elkins. Another transfer is actually a former Huskie, as dynamic receiver Nathan Harper has returned to Hoover after spending last season at George Washington.
However, the new addition that could prove most vital is promising freshman quarterback Dane Hatfield, younger brother of Devin Hatfield and Drew Hatfield, the latter being the 2019 Randy Moss Award winner as the state’s top receiver while playing at Mingo Central, where Fields used to coach.
Fields thus has several good reasons to remain optimistic about the coming season, which begins Monday when preseason practice opens all across West Virginia.
“We’re very excited about this year,’’ Fields said. “I can’t say enough about the off-season workouts — we’ve had 40-plus in the weight room every single day. Guys have bought in and are motivated and they understand what could be, but they know what we have to do every single day. It all depends on how we approach practice every single day.’’
Fields thinks Dane Hatfield’s inclusion to the offense has been seamless so far, and doesn’t anticipate any obstacles for the freshman directing all those returning upperclassmen.
“That was one of my earliest concerns,’’ Fields said, “but he’s responded so well. Dane’s a different type of kid. He’s been around me a long time, and he’s seen this offense and our program since he was 7 years old. So he knows what to expect, and his leadership skills are far beyond his years. We believe in him, and we think we’ll win a lot of football games with him as our quarterback.’’
He’ll certainly have some proven receivers to target in Devin Hatfield (33 catches, 477 yards, six touchdowns in 2020), Burns (24 catches, 380 yards, three TDs) and Harper, who as a freshman and sophomore at Hoover grabbed a total of 29 passes for 774 yards and nine TDs, averaging a whopping 26.7 yards per reception.
Bartley led the Huskies in rushing last season with 802 yards and nine TDs in just eight games. Rollyson was the team’s top tackler with 63 total stops, with Truman (60) a close second. Also back is place-kicker Levi Paxton, who booted four field goals last year — two in the playoff win at Liberty — and 28 extra points.
When asked about his main concern heading into preseason practice, Fields pointed to the offensive and defensive lines, where graduation took a toll.
“We’ve got to get better up front,’’ Fields said, “and we’ve got to get better pretty fast. We’re replacing most of our guys and we lost two starters there. So just building that unit and finding out the best guy to be playing guard and the best guy to be playing center, and find the best combinations with those guys.’’