The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

High School Sports

August 29, 2013

Valley loaded at skill positions, but thin on the line

— 2012 IN REVIEW: The 2012 campaign saw the Valley Greyhounds enjoy a successful regular season and advance to the postseason for the third time in four years.

“It was a good year, no doubt,” said veteran coach Benny Hopkins, who is entering his 35th season at the helm for the Greyhounds.

The campaign, though, ended on somewhat of a sour note with a 33-28 loss to Clay-Battelle in the first round of the Class A playoffs.

“We had too many cotton-picking mistakes against Clay-Battelle,” Hopkins recalled. “It was a pretty evenly-matched game.”

Among the departures to graduation from the 2012 squad were running back/linebacker Cody Winter, who rambled for over 1,000 yards, veteran linemen Slayton Beard and Nathan Phillips, and tight end Mark Hess.

“We had some ups and downs during the season, and we had a few breaks along the way,” Hopkins said.

WHO’S BACK: The ’Hounds’ roster is loaded with experienced skill players.

“We’ve got some skill people,” Hopkins said. “We’re hoping for bigger and better things.

“We have to get the line shored up pretty good.”

Senior quarterback Raeshawn Breckenridge is back to power the attack in 2013.

“He’s going to be a pretty good one,” Hopkins said of Breckenridge.

Senior tailback/cornerback Donte Wilkerson also returns, as does senior back Keyshawn Payne. Seniors Darius Hutchinson and Casey Stewart will each man linebacker spots and get carries at fullback. “They’re both hard-nosed kids,” said Hopkins.

Sophomore Henry Barron-Houchins returns in the backfield, as well.

Among the key line returnees are senior center Steven Mitchell, senior Garren Rowe and senior Brad Higginbotham, who missed time in 2012 due to injury.

HIDDEN GEMS: “Most have played. Most people know what they’re like. We have four or five kids who can really, really play.”

Junior tackle Christian White could make a splash, he said. “He got in the weightroom and got himself bigger,” Hopkins said.

PUTTING POINTS ON THE BOARD: Newcomer Druw Bowen, a sophomore, will handle split end duties for the VHS offense. “He looks pretty good out there,” Hopkins said of Bowen.

Breckenridge will handle signal-calling duties, Payne, Wilkerson and Barron-Houchins are vying for carries at tailback or in the slot, and Hutchinson and Stewart will man the fullback spot. Rowe will be left tackle and White will be right tackle, junior Ryan Nottingham will be at left guard, Higginbotham will be at right guard, and Mitchell returns at center.

Tight end is “up in the air” between junior Jaden Bess, sophomore Joshua Naylor and senior John Riddle.

“We’ll still run the veer and other stuff, also,” Hopkins said. While he’s pleased with the progress, he says the team “still has to get better at what it’s doing.”

MAKING STOPS: Mitchell and White will be at the defensive end positions, and Rowe and Higginbotham will lead the defensive linemen. Hutchinson and Stewart will anchor the defense from their linebacker posts.

Breckenridge and Barron-Houchins will start at the corners, and Wilkerson and Payne will handle the safety responsibilities. Bowen will be a contributor, as well.

“We played pretty good defense (in a preseason scrimmage against Midland Trail),” said Hopkins.  

STANDING IN THE WAY: “We’ve got a pretty tough schedule,” Hopkins said.

“Wirt has been to the playoffs the last four or five years, and that’s who we open up with. Against Clay County (last year), we had to fight for our life. Fayetteville’s going to be better.”

WHAT’S IN STORE: “We’ve got to clean things up a lot,” Hopkins said. “And we can’t get anybody hurt.

“We’ve got to try to get better from week to week.”

Replacing key players will be crucial. “Up front, we lost a tackle and a good tight end,” he added. “We have to get better up front.”

Can the ’Hounds be as good as in 2012?

“We’ve got a chance to have a good year, but a lot of things could happen. We just have to play every week and let ’em fall where they fall.”

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