Wirt County football eyeing playoffs again

ELIZABETH – Although there are a lot of missing pieces, seventh-year Wirt County head football coach Jason Hickman thinks the 2013 edition of the Tigers should be able to challenge for a Class A playoff berth for a fifth consecutive campaign.

A year ago, the orange and black Tigers from Elizabeth finished 7-3 in the regular season before suffering a 40-14 playoff loss at St. Marys.

Gone from that team are nearly a dozen seniors as well as then-starting sophomore quarterback Josh Trembly, who transferred to Parkersburg High School.

“I think with this group this year, we’re at that point where we feel we would underachieve if we didn’t get in (the playoffs),” said Hickman, who plans to use senior Damian Rhodes at quarterback. “I think that’s the way our kids look at it.

“There are so many variables and unknowns right now with everybody, but I think we have the potential to be a very competitive team if we can take care of the football a little better than we did last year, tackle better on defense and take care of some other little things.”

Rhodes was one of four Tigers to rush for more than 400 yards last year as he scored seven touchdowns. With Rhodes under center, the Tigers still have the likes of Jake Linville, Cody Ferguson and Trent Hardbarger in the backfield. Hardbarger played mainly wide receiver last year, but will be in a variety of roles this fall as a junior. Linville (13 TDs) and Ferguson (6 TDs) combined for nearly 1,000 yards rushing last season.

“Damian’s an athletic kid and he’s really come along,” Hickman added. “He’s never played quarterback, but the way he’s playing right now, if he can continue to improve, he should be OK.

“He’s up to about 185 pounds and has really thickened up. His running game is there, but what’s been a pleasant surprise, so far, is his ability to read a coverage and throw it to the right guy.”

Wirt County, which opens with three home affairs versus Valley (Fayette), St. Marys and Gilmer County, once again will use the spread offense and mainly operate out of the shotgun.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, center Jake Bell and three other starters on the offensive line have graduated.

“Cole Linder is our only returning starting lineman,” said Hickman, who noted he’s been moved to center. “We do have Daniel McCue (LG) and Skylar Snyder (RG) and they didn’t start, but played a good bit last year.”

Dylan Pickrell, who also saw time last year, is expected to get the nod at left tackle with Brad Crouser at right tackle.

“I’m not saying they are going to be outstanding, but they have an idea of what we are trying to do and are starting to jell a little bit,” Hickman said of the offensive line.

Both Linville and Wes Valentine will play as hybrid running backs/receivers with Hardbarger also potentially running the ball as a power back or playing tight end. Coach Hickman is also glad to have both Justin Joy and Austin McVey back as wideouts and said smaller guys like Hunter McCoy and Kyle Winland could help replace the graduated Jon Cain.

“We started out day one of the summer coaching period with 42 kids and it’s looking like we’ll probably be in the mid-40s this year,” added Hickman, who also said 10th-grader Logan Kerby could help at the skill positions on offense this season.

“I think we can be competitive with the teams we play and be in the top 16. That’s the goal – to get into the playoffs.”