Nitro, which loses a lot of firepower from last season’s team, does have one very important piece to the offense returning in sophomore quarterback Trevor Lowe.
For the Wildcats, however, it won’t simply be a case of how Lowe can you go? Coach Zach Davis still intends to spread the ball around, much as he did last year in his first season at Nitro.
Lowe, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore, earned Kanawha Valley Rookie of the Year honors last season as he helped the Wildcats go 3-7, their most wins since 2008. He didn’t take over at quarterback until the third game, but wound up passing for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns. He completed 57 percent of his passes (83 of 147), threw just four interceptions and also ran for three scores. In addition, Lowe played some at linebacker.
Considering that Nitro lost the bulk of its running game with the graduation of Orange Dyess and the transfer of Tay Calloway back to Capital, any returning regular on offense is a welcome sight for Nitro.
“Trevor is a very good football player,’’ Davis said. “He’s really more than a football player. He’s a smart and tough kid.’’
Lowe didn’t throw a pass until the team’s third game as Nitro began the season with basketball star Joel Sweat at quarterback. The offense really began to take off when Sweat moved to wide receiver and Lowe took over under center.
“The light came on,’’ Davis said of Lowe, “and we began to trust him more to throw the football downfield and make decisions, and it helped that we got healthy the last couple games of the year, to where we felt we could throw the ball more. He had a pretty good last couple games and we felt like we were moving in the right direction, and we’ve continued to do so in the first week of practice.’’
Graduation robbed the Wildcats of all four players that grabbed at least a dozen passes last season, including team leaders Sweat and Jay Poindexter. But Davis thinks there’s still plenty of pass-catching talent in junior Logan Vest (5-7, 153), senior Austin Wines (5-9, 167), senior Dallas Hazelett (5-8, 134) and junior Anthony Jackson (6-1, 175), who didn’t come out for football until midway through last year, making it his first season with the sport.
“We’ll still definitely spread the ball around to other people,’’ Davis said. “I think that’s how you get guys motivated. That’s what we believe in in this offense.’’
Even with the loss of Calloway (1,009 yards, eight TDs) and Dyess (608 yards, 11 TDs), Davis feels like his running game can again be productive.
“We have some guys ready to carry that load,’’ Davis said, “and Trevor has to run the ball more. It’s going to be something our guys are willing to do. We’ve looked really good the last couple days at practice with the run game, and we’re looking forward to the scrimmages. With the lower numbers out, it’s hard to tell how good we are.’’
Davis expects Vest and Hazelett to get a lot of work toting the ball. Vest earned several carries in the first five games last year, and ran for 92 yards and a touchdown against St. Albans.
The success of the new skill position crew will likely depend on the development of the offensive line.
“It always starts up front with me,’’ Davis said. “Every program talks about the [importance of the] offensive and defensive lines, and I think we have some really good players there. Like every team, we’re not super deep, and it’s the same at the line positions — we have our first team and a couple key backups. If we’re going to compete with the teams in our conference, it’s got to be at the line of scrimmage.’’
Davis thinks his offensive line will consist of seniors Nathan Murray (5-9, 233) and Hunter Humphrey (5-10, 253), junior J.C. McKay (6-3, 299), sophomore Caleb Allawat (6-2, 255) and freshman Scott Worstell (5-8, 188).
Friday marked the first day players around West Virginia could wear pads during practice, and Tuesday is the first day live contact is allowed at workouts.
The first set of scrimmages is scheduled for next weekend, with teams now permitted to go either Friday or Saturday instead of waiting until Saturday of the second week of practice. Nitro hosts a four-team scrimmage starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17 with Herbert Hoover, Morgantown and Riverside.