When his running back injuries started piling up last season, Cabell Midland coach Luke Salmons never could have imagined it would eventually turn into a windfall.
But as the Knights prepare for the 2020 season, they have a wealth of experienced ball-carriers returning who could keep the team’s option attack humming as well as it did a year ago.
Due to a spate of ankle injuries, Midland had eight different players either serve as regular runners or practice in that position last season. Five of those athletes return in fullback Jakob Caudill, running backs Isaiah Vaughn, Jaydyn Johnson and Jackson Fetty and quarterback Chandler Schmidt.
Caudill led the Knights on the ground with 1,924 yards and 15 touchdowns, and Fetty — who also played some at quarterback when injuries flared up at that position, too — added 344 yards and eight TDs in spot duty. Even though they missed 10 or more games each, Vaughn (260 yards, one TD) and Johnson (133 yards, four TDs) were also ticketed to be key ball-carriers. Schmidt began the 2019 season in a role meant to give Division I recruit J.J. Roberts a regular breather at quarterback.
With all five runners now back in the fold, Salmons likes what he sees so far from his main offensive weapons.
“We’ve got some good running backs in my opinion,’’ Salmons said, “and they’ve got good experience. One year makes a big difference in a kid, and they got really good opportunities [last year], and they’re all different.’’
Salmons might have been wincing during last year’s plague of injuries to his runners, but feels a lot better now that he’s welcoming back so much depth brought on by those ailments.
“We try to prepare all our kids like that,’’ Salmons said, “in case it does happen. It’s exciting knowing that we should have really good guys who can take it to the house any given time, in my opinion. They’re all at least 190 or 200 [pounds] or bigger and athletic and fast and strong and good leaders and hungry where they missed last year.
“It makes it exciting for them. Now it’s their chance, and it’s exciting to see. They’ve done really good.’’
Missing how much?West Virginia football teams have already lost one week of preseason practice and one scrimmage due to COVID-19, so it makes one wonder how that will affect play once the regular season starts.
“The thing is, you have to be fortunate to have a lot of good players on your team,’’ said South Charleston coach Donnie Mays, “so that you have some really spirited scrimmages from within. You hope that you can scrimmage somebody else — you always advocate for it being normal at the beginning [of the season].
“We’ve been going at it pretty hard through all three phases [of summer conditioning], and things are going well. I’m sure that’s very similar at other schools, too.’’
Mays just hopes programs around West Virginia won’t be missing more than that one week of practice and one scrimmage due to coronavirus concerns, and wants his athletes to get the chance to compete.
“Not a lot of kids are affected by that COVID stuff,’’ Mays said. “Statistically, that’s a fact for kids their age. Of our coaches, the oldest guy is 44 years old, but I understand some staffs have older coaches.
“I’m willing to use myself as a guinea pig — put me on a bus, do whatever we have to do to have a real season. Any kids who want to do it with me, they have that right. I think it’s important for everyone in America to have equal rights, but at the same time everyone knows my situation that my mom and dad have pre-existing conditions, so I have to be safe about what I do. But I want to make sure our kids get the right opportunity.’’
New faces, new placesThe scramble to fill open spots on every school’s schedule — which was prompted by the elimination of Week 1 games as the timetable to return to classes was pushed back statewide — has made for some interesting matchups in rescheduled games.
For instance, at least seven of the first 25 replacement games to hit the statewide schedule pit teams that have never met before — pairings like Lewis County at Ripley (Sept. 18), Woodrow Wilson at Preston (Oct. 2) and Logan at Tug Valley (Oct. 16). Other first-time contests include Doddridge County at Van (Sept. 18), Musselman at Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania (Sept. 18), Oak Glen at Spring Mills (Oct. 24) and Clay-Battelle at Montcalm (Oct. 30).
Two other longer-than-usual matchups are St. Marys at Wayne (Sept. 11) — teams that haven’t met since 1998-99 — and Williamstown at Summers County (Oct. 9), a game that’s happened just once before, in the first round of the 2018 Class A playoffs.