MORGANTOWN — For the first time in a while, there’s something in the air surrounding the University football team. It’s not enthusiasm or passion — those are always present, and in great quantities, starting with generation-spanning head coach John Kelley, who states simply that, “If I’m out here, then I’m excited about being here, and if I’m not — well, that will let me know it’s time to hang ’em up.”
No, after two seasons of youth-related on-field struggles compounded by harrowing and frustrating COVID issues, the prevailing vibe emanating from Hawks practices these days is a critical component of every successful program and every winning season — belief.
“By our standards, it’s been two straight down years, no question about it,” Kelley said. “A big part of that has been how young we’ve been. The past three years, we’ve had single-digit senior classes, and no matter how talented you are, it’s difficult to compete successfully against more-experienced, more-physically mature teams. And that usually results in some hard learning.”
But all that struggle and battle and long-term thinking appears poised to pay off, as UHS enters the season with a whopping 71-player roster, including 21 seniors and 21 juniors, all with loads of varsity experience and talent.
“We even have a sophomore class with lots of game-action on their resumes,” Kelley said. “There are eight starters back on both sides of the ball, plenty of speed and explosiveness at our skill positions, and our O-line and D-line goes nine deep. So we feel confident that, if injury and/or fatigue hits as it always does, we have people that are ready to step in with the same level of play. And that’s a big advantage.”
Senior linebacker/tight end Donald Brandel sees a different mindset that has him fired up.
“We have been looking toward this year for a while now,” he said of his fellow upperclassmen. “We kept reminding each other that if we just stuck together, kept pushing each other to improve, that we would have an opportunity to be a really strong team. We felt lucky that we got the season we did last year through the pandemic, and we’re all doing our part to make sure we give ourselves a chance to have one this year, as well.
“I think COVID has reminded us of how easily it can all be taken away,” he continued, “and it’s made us a closer family, and made us more aware of all the moments we have together. And now, we are 100% committed to being as good as we can be. We’ve talked about winning, but we can’t just talk about it anymore. It’s time to go out and do it. And we’re ready.”
Junior Chase Edwards is back at quarterback after starting all of last season and the end of the 2019 campaign. At running back, Colin McBee will provide the thunder while Daminn Cunningham will provide the lightning.
At wide receiver, Jaeden Hammack returns after contributing the last two seasons, but the coaching staff is very high on Sage Clawges.
The Hawks, coming off a 3-4 season with a first-round loss in the playoffs to Musselman, will open their season Aug. 27, hosting John Marshall.