Derek Taylor: Capital will be among the best in Kanawha Valley
The high school football preseason is for predictions, projections and -- thankfully, for me -- prognosticators.
With the regular season starting Thursday, however, the clean slates, expectations and hopes of many teams will turn to harsh realities in a number of days. For others, confidence and momentum will build with early season wins, possibly leading the way to playoff runs that will continue their seasons well into autumn.
Before everything gets started in earnest, let's take a last, quick look around the Kanawha Valley at the potential of the teams after their preseason work. From what has been seen by myself and other Daily Mail writers, we could have as many as six teams from Kanawha and Putnam counties reach the playoffs. That would be a higher number of teams than in the past two seasons, and equal a high that hasn't been topped since 2007.
On to the teams, in alphabetical order:
Buffalo -- The loss of two-way standout Laythen Good to a preseason knee injury is compounded by the Bison's overwhelming percentage of freshmen on the roster. There are 13 ninth-graders on the 30-man list, which is real promising for 2016. It could be a long season this year, though. Prediction: 2-8
Capital -- If the Cougars' solidarity holds up and quarterback Tyrhee Pratt stays healthy, they have the goods to make a run at the Super Six. This club is every bit as talented as the 2008 South Charleston team that won the state title. A three-week stretch that sees Capital play at South Charleston, at Huntington and home against Cabell Midland from Sept. 27-Oct. 11 will be a measuring stick for how playoff-ready Coach Jon Carpenter's team is, or if its youth is still a season away from true maturity. Prediction: 9-1
George Washington -- Depth could be an issue for the Patriots, as evidenced by their subs being outscored 24-0 by Huntington at the Mountain State Athletic Conference Grid-O-Rama. That said, GW's starting lineup looks solid on both sides of the ball. The starters led 21-7 before Coach Steve Edwards Jr. subbed them out. They need star linebacker Zach Malone to get healthy, and when they do get him, the depth will improve. GW's defensive front looks impressive, and their secondary is always one of the state's better units. Prediction: 7-3
Herbert Hoover -- The Huskies are in good position to break their two-year playoff absence. They've got a good running back - Shaun Dotson - two quarterbacks with starting experience - Brendan Holbrook and Tyler Americo - and a sizeable line on both sides of the ball. Prediction: 6-4
Hurricane -- The Redskins are better equipped for a deep playoff run than at any time since 2010, when they had all but wrapped up a playoff quarterfinal win against South Charleston until an inexplicable series of events in the final minute. Quarterback Austin Hensley has FBS potential, Zach Pate multi-dimensional weapon, and - most importantly for the team - they play good defense.
On the bad side, Hurricane has perhaps the most difficult schedule of any area team this season. Prediction: 7-3
Nitro -- The Wildcats, as they often do, have some skill talent. The problem isn't on the outside, however. Princeton's offensive and defensive fronts manhandled Nitro at the MSAC Grid, and unfortunately for Nitro, there's only one version of sophomore running back Brayden Underwood. Prediction: 2-8
Poca -- Junior Justin Stewart returns to the game after a one-year absence and takes over as the Dots' starting quarterback. Coach Bob Lemley says his team lacks game experience, and that's a tough thing to get in the Cardinal Conference and expect many wins at the same time. Prediction: 2-8
Riverside -- The Warriors have some big boys up front, and undersized running back Will Jackson looks sharp, but there's not much depth. If first-year Coach Steven Freeman can develop more of a passing game with quarterback Cole Sigman, they'll be moving in the right direction. Their schedule does not allow for much of a learning curve, however. Prediction: 3-7
Sissonville -- It's Year 3 for Coach Eddie Smolder, and he has 80 percent of his offensive line back from 2012 to pave the way for QB Nathan Miller and a host of running backs. The Indians should again challenge for a playoff spot, with their experience getting them in the door for the first time since 2007. Prediction: 6-4
South Charleston -- High-quality athleticism at the skill positions can mask a team's weakness on the offensive line. First-year SC Coach Donnie Mays will benefit from that fact as he continues to work on the Black Eagles' front. There's no shortage of weapons at Mays' disposal, with QB Kentre Grier, All-State WR Kevin Forrest and junior RB A.D. Cunningham just the tip of the iceberg. Prediction: 7-3
St. Albans -- The Red Dragons are still attempting to identify their starting quarterback, which is something that has actually carried over from Coach Steve Stoffel Jr.'s first season, in 2012. SA's best attribute will be its secondary, but wins will come at a premium. Prediction: 2-8
Winfield -- The Generals are better equipped for a run at playoff spot than they've been since moving to Class AAA in 2008. Toby Show has improved as a passer, Colt Richardson and Jacob Lewis are capable backs behind an improved line and Chris Turner is one of the better receivers in the state. The schedule is prohibitive. Winfield could be better than several teams that make the playoff field, but will likely miss out again themselves. Prediction: 5-5
With so many new names in key positions all over the valley and state, the 2013 season shapes up to be as any in the last several years. Thursday can't come soon enough.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at derek.taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.