Prep football: Capital players buying what coach is selling
The consolidation of Charleston and Stonewall Jackson high schools was such an enormous development for high school football that even the Wheeling Intelligencer highlighted it during its 1989 preseason preview edition.
Accompanied by a picture of William King, the story on the new Capital High School announced that a new power had been born, and that it would likely dominate the prep football landscape for the foreseeable future.
Capital, as predicted in that edition, went on to win the 1989 Class AAA state championship with a 12-0 mark. Only eight teams made the playoffs at the time, and only nine opponents had signed on the dotted line to take a beating from Coach Roger Jefferson's Cougars in the regular season, which most did. Capital's narrowest margin of victory before the playoffs was a 16-point win over old Huntington High.
Something, or some things, happened along the way to perennial dominance, however. Although Capital won its second title by beating Wheeling Park in 1991, and a third by beating Hedgesville in 1995, the program has - for the better part of the last decade - taken a backseat to its nearby rival in South Hills, George Washington High School.
Following Jefferson's retirement after the school's most recent Super Six appearance in 1996, GW began its gradual rise to prominence under the leadership of Coach Steve Edwards Jr. Thanks to a Kanawha County policy that allowed incoming freshman the opportunity to attend any high school within county borders, a steady stream of would-be Cougars began attending GW.
With those changes, not surprisingly, came more wins on "The Hill", and fewer in "The Flats", i.e. Capital's territory within the Charleston metro area.
The Patriots are far from the only Kanawha County football team to benefit from the transfer rule in the last 15-plus years. With the possible exception of the 1999 Riverside Warriors, every team from this area that has played for a Class AAA state championship since 1998 has done so with the aid of a key player who went to middle school in another district.
Every last one of them, from Nitro in 1998 to the Wildcats' 2005 team to St. Albans in '07 to the South Charleston teams of 2008-09 to GW in 2008 and 2011. All of them.
The late Jack Woolwine, who retired from coaching the Cougars after the 2009 season and died from cancer in July, bemoaned the county's policy and the problems it posed his own program shortly after he stepped down.
The Cougars' 35-13 win over GW last week was not a fluke. It was a harbinger.
When he was hired to replace Woolwine as coach in 2010, Jon Carpenter said he had a mission to keep all players from Stonewall Jackson and Horace Mann middle schools in the Capital system and to wear blue and silver. For the most part he has succeeded in this venture. There is no mystical reason why the Cougars are led by so many sophomores (like multi-purpose back Kashuan Haley) and freshmen (like quarterback Tyrhee Pratt).
They showed. They stayed. They star.
Carpenter has sold would-be Capital kids on the notion that, with their help and loyalty, he can return to program to its late-80s/early-90s status. As they've become bona-fide Capital kids, they have quickly built the core of a program that in short time could be a title contender year-in and year-out.
A line from a song popular during Capital's Darrion Scott era (specifically from 1998) might say it best: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.
As George Washington's star-studded group of seniors that includes 2011 Kennedy Award winner and 2012 Kennedy favorite Ryan Switzer, All-State linebacker/fullback Dustin Crouser, three-year starting lineman Sam Plantz and star linebacker Trevon Johnson leaves the school next spring, a potential vacuum remains. Switzer and Crouser, in particular, have been high-profile leaders of the program for so long that it will be difficult if not impossible for the Patriots to maintain the same level of success after they leave.
Meanwhile, Haley will have two more years to roam the turf at University of Charleston Stadium. Pratt has three more years to develop, and don't look now, but Stonewall Jackson eighth grader Silas Nazario broke that school's single-season touchdowns record last week when he scored his 29th of the 2012 campaign.
Since Carpenter took over the Capital program, Stonewall is 32-0. The Generals just capped off a third consecutive Kanawha County championship season with a 62-12 win over John Adams (GW's feeder school).
The third-year coach and East Bank graduate got an assist recently when an embargo was placed on incoming transfers to GW. He'll still recruit his own middle schools for players, no doubt. They finally won the battle, breaking a string of seven consecutive wins by the Patriots in the series. Carpenter and Capital have not yet, however, won the war.
For as trend-breaking as last week's win could prove to be, Capital is still terribly young. George Washington should still be expected to advance deeper into the 2012 Class AAA playoffs. Before the Capital win, the Cougars were looking at the very real prospect of not even qualifying for the 16-team field. After all, they must still face Beckley (6-3) this week before going on the road in the regular season finale to face No. 3 Huntington (9-1).
Conventional wisdom says that if the Cougars could manhandle the Patriots in the manner in which they did, they should also be able to handle Beckley and Huntington. That will be the test. A young team is always prone to letdown after such a big win. Focus will be at a premium in the next two weeks.
Regardless of how the rest of the 2012 season plays out, however, the die has been cast. The giant, born in 1989 and in somewhat of a slumber since 1996, looks to have been awoken.
And somewhere, probably wearing a plaid flannel shirt, Woolwine has got to be smiling.