Prep football: New starters have found their feet for Redskins
HURRICANE, W.Va. - Talent, size and execution all breed success, though the formula for the Hurricane football team also includes creating depth.
The Redskins returned just four starters under first-year Coach Jeremy Taylor for what many perhaps thought would be a rebuilding year after reaching the Class AAA playoff quarterfinals in 2011. By creating depth across the positions, however, Taylor has unveiled a plan that has fostered immediate returns for the Redskins, as well as the base for the program's future.
The team is ranked ninth in the Secondary School Activities Commission's Class AAA playoff standings this week. The top 16 teams qualify for the playoffs, which begin Nov. 9.
"We're starting 18 new guys, and a lot of teams say we're starting 18 new guys, but really it's nine guys on offense and those same nine are playing (defense)," Taylor said. "I've got 18 kids that are new, but they're playing, they're getting experience, and that's huge for the future, and it's huge for this year."
After back-to-back wins against Winfield and Nitro to start the season, Hurricane dropped a tough 35-34 contest at Beckley. Then, George Washington defeated the Redskins 41-15.
Following a bye week, Hurricane (6-3) responded with three straight wins to dispel any 'Here we go again' groans.
Junior quarterback Austin Hensley, one of the team's few returning starters from 2011, said it was a turning point that put the Redskins back on track.
"We came together as a group," he said. "We talked about it and said we have to come together right now and we got to make a playoff run, so that's what we've done. That's the goal since day one, is to make a playoff run."
Following the 2-2 start, the players exhibited heart, and so did the staff to believe in the inexperienced group, Taylor said.
Taylor added in years past players might have been pulled too quickly after making mistakes or used too much by playing both offensive and defensive positions.
With a 55-27 loss to Spring Valley in Week 9, Hurricane essentially faced a playoff play-in game with Logan on Friday. As they did earlier in the season, the Redskins overcame adversity with a 41-14 win against the Wildcats.
The key is trust in the players, giving them experience to learn from miscues and building depth at the same time, Taylor said.
"I don't care what kind of conditioning program you have or how much you run, eventually attrition is going to take over and when you got teams like Cabell Midland that can bring waves of kids at you, it just wears you down, and we're trying to get to that point where we can send waves of people," Taylor said.
Instead of taking the hits, Hurricane now rides the waves thanks to its burgeoning depth.
"I noticed in the second quarter (Friday), you noticed Logan was, their big boys had their hands on their (hips), bending over," Taylor said, "and we've got five fresh linemen coming out on offense and they're coming out on defense. We're sending four fresh linemen in on defense."
In addition to great numbers on the line, the Redskins rotate many different skills players. Against Logan, nine different players finished with at least one carry and seven different receivers caught a pass.
"In past years, some of those kids might not have played," Taylor said. "Now, we're trying to get - the more kids you play, the more kids you'll have come out. Instead of playing 15 kids both ways and you've got 50 on the sideline, you're playing 25-30 kids in a game, and you've got your freshmen and sophomores watching, getting ready for next year."
Hurricane will face its biggest test in the season finale, at undefeated No. 1 Cabell Midland (9-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
On paper, it appears a daunting task, but Hensley said the Redskins won't concede anything.
"All we can do is go out and play 100 percent like we're supposed to," he said. "Everybody has to show up to play. We have to work as a unit."
With those words, it seems the players have absorbed Taylor's philosophy.
"We're trying to change the attitude at Hurricane," Taylor said.
No matter the style of play or the individual talents of specific players, depth holds the key.
"We took some lumps there with some kids, but we hung with them and I think it's going to pay big dividends in the future," Taylor said. "We only got seven seniors. The future is bright, it really is here. You just have to work."