By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
It’s in the air. Can you smell it?
Area high school football teams have taken to the practice fields for summer drills, in hopes of getting a leg up on the competition.
Although, as Woodrow Wilson head coach John H. Lilly points out, it’s more like training camp than anything else.
“Because we start school so early this year, it’s really changed the complexion for us,” Lilly said. “It’s important for us to work through these three weeks.”
With Raleigh County schools beginning on Aug. 15 this year, it essentially eliminates a week of two-a-day practices that so many coaches rely on to get their teams ready.
It will be a significant challenge for the reloading Flying Eagles, who will lose significant playmakers in Andrew Johnson and Ramon Edwards to graduation.
“We lost a quarterback that started 27 straight games. That’s big for us,” Lilly said of Johnson.
Johnson, Woodrow’s all-time leading passer, threw for 1117 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. He picked up 12 more touchdowns on the ground, rushing for 875 yards.
Johnson will likely be replaced by his understudy, junior Brent Osborne.
“He’s now getting the majority of the reps for us,” Lilly said. “He was our backup and started for us on defense. So it’s not like he’s completely new to the team.”
Replacing Edwards will likely be a tough task for Lilly.
“Ya don’t really replace someone who runs a 10.7 100,” he said. “We lost 4000 yards of offense in two years from (Johnson and Edwards). That’s what we’re working on in our summer practices.”
Lilly looks for senior Donte Nabors and junior Chase Hancock to fill much of the void left by the speedster Edwards.
Nabors had 18 receptions for 243 yards in 2012, while Chase Hancock ran for 191 yards, finding paydirt four times.
“They’re both looking very good at this point in time,” Lilly said. “We’re leaning on those two guys until the younger guys come up.”
It’s been an offseason of rumors for Liberty head coach Jeff Alexander, who is looking forward to getting back into the swing of things.
Alexander was the subject of one of those rumors, which suggested that the head coach would be leaving the Raiders for the position left open by the retiring Scott Cuthbert at Independence — the school where Alexander teaches.
Instead, Alexander is putting those rumors to bed, by returning to Liberty for his 13th season, his 11th as head coach.
But much like Woodrow, the Raiders will be filling a massive void left by two graduates, Matthew Bailey and Joey Lacek, who helped lead the Raiders to an early 4-1 record, before losing all but one of their final five games.
“We’re going to be very young,” Alexander said. “But we’re still excited about the season.”
Alexander feels his defense line, bolstered by the returns of brothers Rickey and Mikey Talley on the ends, but it’s his young returning quarterback, Hunter Wright, who will the most eyes on him this season.
“We’ve got Hunter coming back for us,” Alexander said. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger in the offseason. He’s very intelligent. I think he’ll be okay if he can stay injury free.”
Perhaps Wright will be throwing to the subject of the other big rumor surrounding Liberty; a 6-foot-11, 295 lb rumor named Levi Cook to be exact.
Cook took to Twitter several weeks ago, expressing his desire to play football for Liberty this season. Cook and Alexander have discussed the behemoth junior joining the team.
“I’ve heard the same thing for the last couple weeks,” Alexander said. “From what I hear, he’s going to play.”
Alexander expects to line Cook up as a tight-end, giving Wright the biggest target in the state of West Virginia to throw to.
“Levi could be a D-1 football player,” Alexander added. “You don’t see too many 6-foot-10, 290 lb tight ends. He could be a force to reckon with. He has great hands from his basketball skills.”
Cook, a Class AA first team all-stater, averaged 23.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 4.1 blocks and 3.1 steals per game on the hardwood for the Raiders. He is expected to continue his playing career at West Virginia University after high school.
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