MORGANTOWN — There are times, if you play football, when there’s simply no substitute for hitting somebody else.
For the past decade, Preston and University have gotten together for a pre-season scrimmage, and for both Class AAA teams, Friday night’s workout at the Hawks’ Mylan Pharmaceuticals Stadium was another chance to bang pads with players in different colored jerseys, to get a better idea of how they size up to the competition.
“We’ve been doing this with Preston for a while now,” long-time UHS coach John Kelley said, “and some people think we shouldn’t scrimmage a team you’ll face during the season. But we won’t see them for so long (October 19), we’ll both be very different teams by then, so I’ve never seen a problem with it. We both get more reps at game speed and game intensity, and that allows us to learn a lot about our teams.”
With 15 seniors on the roster, the Hawks are again hoping to make an extended run in the post-season, and they looked every bit the contender against an exceedingly young Preston team. The first-team offense was especially sharp and explosive. Senior Amir Richardson took his offense’s opening play to the house from 70-yards out, while senior quarterback Logan Holgorsen tossed a 20-yard TD pass on a fade route to Richardson, and junior fullback Logan Raber busted off-tackle for a 70-yard score as well.
While the Knights’ inexperienced defense struggled at times, their offense was bolstered by strong quarterback play from junior Colten Rosenberger and freshman Trevor Thomas. Both were athletic, made good decisions, and fired accurate passes from the pocket and when rolling out.
Besides getting through the 90-minute scrimmage with no more than the normal bumps and bruises — Knights junior running back Jesse Gribble tweaked a knee, but both teams survived relatively unscathed — coaches want to see a healthy dose of both the good, the bad, and maybe even a little bit of the ugly as well.
Preston coach Jonathan Tennant was pleased with the progress overall.
“We have a 45-man roster with 30 freshmen and sophomores,” he explained, “So we know we’re going to have to improve every time we step on the field, and we definitely did that tonight. Plenty to work on, of course — execution on offense, tackling efficiency. But I really liked what both quarterbacks showed tonight. They made a lot of plays, and that’s what you need from the guys with the ball in their hands.
“We’ve told our kids that we will face teams that are bigger, stronger, faster, and more experienced,” he continued, “but I don’t want us to ever be out-toughed. Toughness is a choice, and that’s our challenge.”
Kelley was concerned about his team’s conditioning as the week began, and was happy with how they responded.
“I was pleased with everything I saw today,” he smiled. “Big plays, enthusiasm, endurance, all of it. We still need to clean up our kicking game, and focus on the run offense more, but we’re getting close to where we want to be.”
With plenty of video in the hopper to transcribe and transform into teaching moments, both the Knights and the Hawks know they have plenty of work to do to improve, and not much time to get it done: Week 1 of the 2018 West Virginia high school football season is just seven short days away.
Preston opens at home against Hampshire on Friday night, at 7:30 p.m., while the Hawks travel to John Marshall then to Parkersburg South and won’t play their home opener until Sept. 9, against Brooke.