Sissonville Shamblin & Hughart

Sissonville’s Gavin Shamblin (right) covers Cole Hughart during a Thursday practice. They’re the top two returning tacklers for the Indians, who might need to rely on their defense early in the season.

At least when the season begins, Sissonville might be leaning a bit more on its defense.

The Indians lost a two-year starting quarterback in Will Hackney, their top running back in Chance Jones and their top receiver in Mayson Miller. Hackney was a first-team Class AA All-State selection last year, and Miller was a second-team choice.

Minus that talent, the Indians may need to rely on a defense led by a pair of experienced players in end Cole Hughart and middle linebacker Gavin Shamblin. They were the team’s No. 1 and No. 3 tacklers, respectively, last season.

Hughart had a monster season, recording 13 quarterback sacks and a team-high 107 tackles, 24 of them for lost yardage. Shamblin was credited with 831/2 tackles, 26 for losses, and 71/2 sacks.

“We felt like our defense would be a strength this year coming into the off-season,’’ coach Marc Wilson said. “We’re hoping that on the defensive side, the experience we come out with will see us through some of the initial hard times.

“Hey, we graduated 12 seniors last year. Some days you think we could be really, really good, and other days maybe not so good. Of course, we’ve had some pleasant surprises on the offensive side of the ball since [preseason practice opened], so if we can get our offensive line tuned up, who knows?’’

Run for the borderCall George Washington coach Steve Edwards Jr. a visionary, if you will. Or at least someone on his athletics staff.

The Patriots were the first Class AAA team from the Kanawha Valley to look outside the state borders for games, a search that became even more important as the number of schools in West Virginia’s AAA classification dwindled.

GW began a series with Paul Blazer High from Ashland, Kentucky, in 2011 that heads into its ninth meeting this season — Sept. 6 in the Bluegrass State. The Patriots also had a one-off game with St. Francis DeSales from Columbus, Ohio, in 2012.

Not long after, other area schools followed suit. Capital and South Charleston each started up a rivalry with Kentucky power Johnson Central in 2016, a series that continues to this day. Hurricane traveled to Paintsville, Kentucky, for a game in 2017.

Other Mountain State Athletic Conference teams such as Cabell Midland, Huntington and Spring Valley have ventured across the border for a handful of games, but they’re a lot closer to Ohio and Kentucky than their Kanawha Valley brethren.

In fact, when SC played Johnson Central, it marked the Black Eagles’ first out-of-state opponent since Chesapeake, Ohio, in 1932. When Capital met JC, it was the first non-West Virginia team ever for a Cougars program that began in 1989. Hurricane’s venture to Paintsville was the program’s first outside the state since playing Proctorville, Ohio, in 1926 and Catlettsburg, Kentucky, in 1925.

So GW can claim a first, of sorts, by starting a trend in that department. The Patriots lead their competitive series with Ashland 5-3. Five of the eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

“Sometimes, you have trouble getting people to play you,’’ Edwards said, “even as down as we’ve been. Nobody was knocking on our door wanting to play. Some teams go a little easier route than most teams we’re dealing with. It’s tough. Fortunately, we were able to get a game with Paul Blazer, and it’s turned into a really good deal for both of us. I think we’ll keep them around a while.’’

Help heads up riverWhen Valley High School in Smithers was swallowed up in Fayette County consolidations last spring, the underclass students were given a choice to go to Oak Hill or Riverside the following school year.

About 10 of the Greyhounds football players opted to go up W.Va. 60 to Riverside when football practice began on Monday, giving a welcome helping hand to second-year Warriors coach Alex Daugherty.

“We saw them in June,’’ Daugherty said, “and we’ve got about three to five players who can play for us, and help us with our depth.’’

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.