Warriors escalating passing attack
A good general understands the capabilities of his weapons and uses them to maximum advantage. A good football coach does the same thing with his players. Pocahontas County Warriors coach Mike Knisley said his team lost some raw power, but will more than make up for it with speed and athleticism. The coach is adjusting the game plan to use his team's strengths.
The Warriors lost nine talented seniors to graduation, including bruising RB/LB Jesse Hoke (all-state second team); brawny OL/DL/punter Evan Rose (all-state first team) and big LB/OL Seth Doss (all-state special honorable mention). The squad will also miss immovable OL/DL Nathan Hamons (all-conference second team), athletic WR Tanner Graham (all-conference second team), stalwart LB/WR Noah Pugh (all-conference second team), strapping LB/OL Zach Chestnut (all-conference first team), nice surprise DE/FB Michael Hensler (all-conference second team) and reliable WR/DB David Kiner (all-conference second team).
That's a lot of tough guys to lose in one off-season, but the coach is confident that his new crew will be able to surpass last year's playoff-caliber team.
The updated roster might lack some of the brute force of last year's team, but has good speed, athleticism and an abundance of skill. Warrior fans should be excited about the upcoming season.
Kyler Doss and Devin Rose thrilled fans last year with their quickness and ability to make plays.
After Hoke went down with a leg injury, sophomore Doss got lots of carries and received all-state honorable mention for gaining 1,067 yards rushing and more than 300 yards receiving. Doss is fast and sees the field like a cat, zipping through tacklers and refusing to be corralled.
Rose showed surprising toughness for a freshman at defensive back, where he made all-conference honorable mention.
Doss and Rose exemplify a new Warrior line-up with good speed and lots of athletic ability. But this season's team has strength, too, and most football battles are won in the trenches.
Offensive line coach Steve Tritapoe said he's proud of his players' efforts in the weight room during the off-season and gave his center, Ryan Cain, special praise.
"Cain is a pretty good sized kid," he said. "He's been in the weight room all winter, all spring and all summer. In fact, Ryan Cain's one of the only players that did not miss a single day of scheduled lifting with us. He's really dedicated, really working hard and he's earned his position. It's the same with all the other guys. Of course, you know, we have dentist's appointments and stuff come up, just like everyone else and stuff you can't get around, but Ryan Cain is actually one kid who did not miss a single day of weight lifting.
"So, I'm real proud of him and I'm real proud of all the kids that showed up and worked with us this year and tried to improve themselves."
Cain (5'8", 200) will anchor the line at center. Senior all-conference Brandon Gloshen (6'2", 230) returns at right guard with more muscle and determination. Senior all-conference Zach Cassell (6'3", 290) returns to right tackle. Powerful sophomore Judd Walther (5'9", 210), who bench pressed 275 pounds and squatted 435 pounds during first practice, earned a spot at left guard. Sophomore Brandon Hamons, who tossed a no-hitter during baseball season, is the current favorite to earn the left tackle position.
In the backfield, senior all-conference Skylar Knisley, with two years starting experience, has matured into a confident, capable quarterback. Sophomore Wes Felton, a standout baseball player and great all-around athlete, will be Knisley's backup.
A number of players will have the opportunity to run the ball.
Senior all-conference FB/RB Hunter Grimes has bulked up and will be expected to get tough yards up the middle. Doss and Rose will be speed backs, with valuable playing experience from last year. Senior Jesse Taylor and junior Seth Painter are expected to get carries. Freshman Cary Robertson is the second fastest player on the team, after Doss, and could see a few handoffs.
Knisley said he was pleased with his crop of young receivers.
"Through the summer, the seven and sevens we did, everybody caught the ball well," he said. "Spencer McCoy has good hands. Matthew Arbogast could come into the mix as a receiver - he did a nice job this summer. Jesse Taylor. Devin Rose. We've got a lot of kids that can catch the football."
Knisley wants to expand his passing offense.
Overall, being able to throw the ball with a little more proficiency," he said. "We did okay [last season]. We were functional. We had several games that we threw for over 100 yards. But we want to be able to try to get a little more balance out of that. I thought we could do a better job there."
Last year's defense was the second best in school history in points allowed. Knisley said he expects his defense to be even better this year, due to an improved secondary.
"We got a lot of those defensive linemen back," he said. "The linebackers are new, but I think we have a lot of potential. The run defense can still be very, very good and we need it to be very good, as well. I think we can force teams to pass this year. I think we're going to be very strong because we are much improved in the secondary."
Tritapoe also coaches the defense and said he needs a good team effort.
"It's hard to strap down a buckle and say one kid or one position can do it," he said. "Our defense, the way it works, everyone has to do their job for it to work."
Gloshen, Cassell and Grimes are expected to be key players on defense. Gloshen takes over at nose guard. Cassell will shift between tackle and guard. Grimes, who made several big defensive plays last season, is expected to make an impact at linebacker.
"I know our seniors know their jobs and know what to expect, Tritapoe said. "They're doing a great job leading and showing the other kids what needs to be done."
Former soccer goalie Sarah Jonese makes history this season as the first Warrior female football player.
Knisley said he wasn't sure where the lanky senior would play, but that she was "just one of the guys."
"She decided she wanted to play football," he said. "I've got no problems with that. We've played several teams through the years that had girls on the team. You go out to California, go up to New Jersey and places, it's not an uncommon event, from wrestling to football. Her parents are good with it. It's not a big deal. She's just one of the guys and when she's here, she's a football player, she's not a girl."
The Warriors finished the regular season at 6-4 in 2010 and qualified for the number 14 spot in the state Class A playoffs. The team traveled across state to Glen Dale and lost their first-round playoff game to Bishop Donahue, 34-14.
Knisley said he sets high goals for his team.
"We're here to win," he said. "We emphasize winning. We're doing all this to win football games. You know, I think football teaches a lot of other life lessons and has a lot of bonuses or pluses around it, too, but you do all this work and put all these hours in - you do it to win games."
The coach wants to take care of business in the Potomac Valley Conference first.
"We want to win our conference, the Potomac Valley Conference," he said. "We want to win that conference. That's beating Tygarts Valley, Tucker County, Pendleton and East Hardy. We want to beat those teams. We want to win conference title after conference title."
Knisley doesn't want his team to think a state title is out of reach.
Ultimately, you want to win a state championship, a state title," he said. "You've got to talk about it. That's the ultimate goal of anybody, to win the championship. If you're not making sure that people understand that is your goal, as coaches, then the kids say, 'well, yeah, if we make the playoffs, that would be cool.' Have higher goals than that. Obviously, not everybody is going to reach those, but you've got to start out with that goal."
The Warriors scrimmage at James Monroe on August 13 at 11 a.m. and on August 20 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at Nicholas County.