Capital has so many proven skill players coming back this season, that it’s a fair question. How do you keep all of them happy?
Starting with senior quarterback Kerry Martin Jr., a third-year starter who will be getting a lot of attention for the Kennedy Award as the top player in West Virginia, the Cougars are stocked with game-breaking talent.
Coach Jon Carpenter can call on running backs Quisean Gray, DeShaun James and promising newcomer Shawn James, receivers Deishawn Harper, Chance Knox, K.J. Figures and Kerion Martin and versatile K.J. Taylor, whether it be running, receiving or returning kicks.
All can be considered breakaway threats for the Class AAA contenders. Kerion Martin and Taylor didn’t see the ball much last season, but each had his big moments — Kerion Martin, younger brother of Kerry, with an 88-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown against Hurricane and Taylor with an 89-yard kickoff return for a score in a playoff quarterfinal game at University.
Carpenter, however, doesn’t envision any problems getting enough work to keep all involved content with their roles.
“It’s not hard to keep them happy anymore,’’ Carpenter said. “If they were selfish, they would have taken the recruiting pitch coming out of junior high. So that makes it easy because, first of all, they’re all good kids and all are wanting to win.
“Second of all, by not huddling, we’re not going to be wasting any time. I think Kerry being a senior, we’ll be able to snap the ball faster and try to get in as many plays as we can. That’s a good problem to have. We’ve never really huddled much anyway, but one of our goals is to snap the ball faster this year.’’
Carpenter also thinks the later starting times adopted by Kanawha County schools this year — first day of classes is Aug. 20, and county high schools will begin daily schedules about an hour later than before — all play in his team’s favor come practice time. Previously, the Cougars had to wait around University of Charleston Stadium for about 90 minutes each day until the Golden Eagles were done before they could run their drills.
That means Carpenter and his staff can actually run some two-a-day workouts the first three weeks, plus eliminate a lot of down time at the start of their practices.
“We had a heck of a time trying to get into shape,’’ Carpenter said, “but now that schools are starting later, we can get into better shape, and that can help us push the pace a little bit more. We have to be in shape to do what we want to do.’’
Hurricane: two-headed QB?
Nathan Roy returns at quarterback for Hurricane after throwing for 1,713 yards and 17 touchdowns against just three interceptions last season. However, the senior faces a challenge this summer from rising junior Austin Womack.
Womack earned a bit of playing time each of the two previous seasons when the starter was momentarily knocked out of the game. Most famously, Womack threw a 12-yard touchdown pass at Huntington in 2016 on his only play of the game.
“A lot of teams say they have battles at positions,’’ said Redskins coach Jeremy Taylor, “but we need it. [Roy’s] a good player, but Austin Womack’s pretty good, too. If nothing else, I get the feeling that he may see some time in snaps that matter.
“Last year, I didn’t think [Womack] was ready. But it’s worked out for him. By the end of the year, he had to step in against Hedgesville [in the playoffs] and he was ready. Now if he had to step in against Winfield or Paintsville at the beginning of the year, he might not have been ready. This year, we’ve got a pretty good backup and we’ve got to get him some snaps. It’s a good dilemma to have. He can’t watch another year — he’s got to play. He’ll either play wide receiver or he’ll come in [at QB] every third or fourth series of the game.’’
Martinsburg hits the road
Two-time defending Class AAA champion Martinsburg had to get a bit creative when it lost its regular-season series with Morgantown. The Bulldogs filled that spot on their schedule with a Sept. 21 date at Academy Park in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, about a three-hour drive from the Eastern Panhandle.
Academy Park went 7-4 last year, with its four losses coming to teams that went a combined 39-13.
“We don’t know a lot about them,’’ said Dave Walker, Martinsburg’s coach and athletic director. “They’re really athletic, and they’re not shy about playing us. I know they’ve got a good quarterback coming back, a couple good skill kids and a good line.
“Right now, we’re just trying to find games that are triple-A and against public schools. St. Frances and DeMatha — [Maryland] schools that are a little bit smaller — these schools are calling us and wanting to play, but I’m not playing a bunch of private schools. A lot of them are considered Class A in West Virginia.
“I wouldn’t mind playing them because they’re really good, but it hurts us in a way. If we find a school around our enrollment, we pretty much don’t have a choice. Morgantown dropping us put us in a bind. So we’ve got to go up there [to Academy Park]. It might even turn into a two-year deal.’’