Derek Taylor: Summer hype means prep football season is near
Here's a question to disregard in the next two weeks, lest it rob you of the actual experience.
Is high school football the most exciting time of the prep sports year, or is the buildup just before the season begins even better?
Far be it from me, a lowly Preps Editor, to assert that high school sports have more of a following than golf in the Mountain State, but suffice it to say there's not even much banter around here this week about the British Open, whereas the appetite for high school football is seemingly never satisfied.
The 6th Annual Daily Mail Preseason All-State team will be announced just two weeks from today, ringing the opening bell on the 2013 campaign and, in turn, the 2013-14 scholastic sports year. Our annual special edition will also include an additional watch list of potential standouts, information on coaching changes throughout the state, returning statistical leaders from the 2012 season and more.
Practice begins across the state Aug. 5, with initial scrimmages scheduled for Aug. 17. The regular season starts Aug. 29, a Thursday night that will see at least two games played - South Charleston at George Washington and Cabell Midland at Riverside - with the possibility of a third - Tolsia at Wayne.
Fans and coaches alike will get a better idea of their teams' prospects between Aug. 5 and 29. Before then, as it's often said, hope springs eternal.
It could be argued that the dog days of summer are the best time of the year for a majority of the state's prep sports fans. News such as what came out of Buffalo last week, when standout running back/defensive back Laythen Good - a second team Class A All-State pick in 2012 and one of precious few Bison returning from last year's playoff team with any meaningful game experience - announced he had a torn ACL and would miss the season, are a rarity this time of year.
The internet has increased knowledge of teams across the state and for the most part heightened awareness of the sport. Still, there are always unknowns due to the ever-changing nature of high school rosters. What often results from the collision of those realities are claims of quarterbacks who, though previously unheard of in the statewide sense, throw such amazing passes that rainbows emanate from the throws, blinding defenders with the their sheer beauty, and things of that hyperbolic nature.
What is great about the season itself is that some of these claims come pretty close - at least in the analogical sense - to panning out. Others do not. Just like Christmas morning, we have to wait and see.
There are tidbits of information that trickle through during the offseason that can actually be verified, however. For instance, remember Scott running back Draven Riffe, a Class AA second team All-State pick in 2011 when he ran for 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore? Riffe transferred to Van prior to the start of last season but then suffered an ankle injury that kept him from ever suiting up for the Bulldogs.
He'll be in the George Washington backfield in 2013, where he will take the place of two-time Kennedy Award-winning running back Ryan Switzer.
The guy handing Riffe the ball is also a GW newcomer, but that's been known for some time. Senior Jon Alexander left South Charleston last year to attend Hargrave Military Academy, but has since returned to the Kanawha Valley and will run the Patriots' offense.
Huntington's Donte Hendricks ran for 498 yards and seven touchdowns for the Highlanders in 2012 - he was their third-leading rusher and behind only fullback Paden Christian among returnees - won't be in Coach Billy Seals' backfield. He'll be in Luke Salmons' at Cabell Midland, where he'll replace All-State pick David Gaydosz, who landed in Ona for his senior year after three years at Winfield.
Teran Barnitz, who played fullback at Point Pleasant a year ago, was with Midland throughout summer workouts as well.
The transfer of players isn't just an I-64 corridor phenomenon. Madonna running back/linebacker Nick Ossman, who helped the Blue Dons reach the Class A state title game last year, will be at Brooke. John Marshall second-year coach Rick Goodrich, who came to the Monarchs from his former post at Cambridge, Ohio, will welcome former Bobcat starting running back Trevor Hardesty to the brown-and-gold fold in Glen Dale.
East Fairmont's leading rusher from a year ago, Luke Hrapchak, has crossed town to suit up at Fairmont Senior, where J.L. Abbott has returned to coach the Polar Bears again after a three-season stint as an assistant at Fairmont State.
Martinsburg running back Trey Boyd, the top running back in the Bulldogs' drive to a third consecutive Class AAA title, will not be back. He has returned to his former residence in Florida.
Transfers are far from the only thing of interest however, and if not for the sorting out of rosters for fact-checking purposes aren't even the most noteworthy things regarding the coming season. Martinsburg's quest for an unprecedented fourth consecutive big-school championship should - and will - draw plenty of attention, but not until the start of the playoffs in mid-November.
Wayne will try to become the first team since Poca from 2001-03 - and just the second team in history - to win three straight Class AA titles. Again, the watch on that will become more focused in about four months.
Both Wayne, and to only a slightly lesser extent Martinsburg, will enter the season as favorites to repeat as champs. Morgantown, Capital, Wheeling Park, Huntington and South Charleston appear to be the Bulldogs' biggest threats as August approaches. The Pioneers will be keeping an eye on teams such as Keyser - the 2012 runner-up - as well as Bluefield, Fairmont Senior and Bridgeport.
In Class A, the return to the lineup of Wheeling Central quarterback Parker Henry after he missed 2012 with a knee injury will make the race for playoff positioning significantly tighter between the Maroon Knights and Madonna, while defending champion Wahama, Magnolia and Greenbrier West all appear equipped for deep playoff runs again.
Mark your calendars now. The season is just 17 days away.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.