The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

High School Sports

August 29, 2013

Woodrow trying to replace offensive firepower

— 2012 IN REVIEW: Woodrow Wilson has a lot to be proud of in 2012. It started off 4-1, beat area rivals Greenbrier East and Princeton and knocked off a traditional Class AAA power Parkersburg. The Flying Eagles shut out Ripley, beat Riverside without much trouble and took one of the stat’s top teams, Huntington, to the wire.

All of that was good enough for a 6-4 record and a spot in the Class AAA playoffs.

“We’re always happy if we make the playoffs,” said head coach John H. Lilly. “That’s always one of the major goals.

“But we’re not satisfied.”

The incomplete feeling came about because of a first-round playoff loss to eventual state champion Martinsburg.

“That’s been one of our major goals in the offseason,” said Lilly. “We want to take the next step.”

That won’t be easy, though, considering some of the weapons Woodrow lost from last year’s team.

The list starts with quarterback Andrew Johnson, who threw for 1,117 yards and rushed for 875 more. He accounted for 24 touchdowns and was also a major force in the Flying Eagle secondary.

Cole Williams (379 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Ramon Edwards (758 yards and four touchdowns) are also gone from the backfield.Edwards was also the top receiving target, catching 27 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns.

“We’ve lost more than 4,000 yards of offense the last two years,” said Lilly. “That’s tough to replace.”

They’ll also be without some quality linemen, as well as Register-Herald Defensive Player of the Year Anthony Hosea.

WHO’S BACK: It’s not all bad news for “The Big Maroon Machine.” There’s some solid talent returning, including a couple of talented receivers in 6-foot-3 senior Chase Hancock and 5-11 senior Donte Nabors — one of the state’s top basketball players.

Hancock and Nabors combined to catch 22 passes for nearly 300 yards last season.

“We’ll have to ride them a little early on,” said Lilly.

Troy Lilly, a 6-1, 201-pound fullback/tight end is a college-level prospect, and he’ll be joined by another playmaker in Marcus Mickey at both spots.

“We do have some pieces,” said Lilly. “It will just be about putting them all together.”

HIDDEN GEMS: Opponents don’t want to hear anything about another Woodrow wide receiver, but Lilly is confident he has another good on in speedster Josh Creed. The junior caught a couple of passes last year and should see more come his way this fall. Lilly also pointed to a pair of offensive linemen in sophomore Tyler Sheets and junior Ben Jackson, who weighs in at 308 pounds, as two players that will make a big impact this season.

PUTTING POINTS ON THE BOARD: When it comes to offense, Lilly believes everything starts with the men in the trenches, even in an offense that spreads opponents out and gets the ball on the perimeter.

Gus Haga, a 235-pound senior, anchors the Woodrow line at center. He’s surrounded by Sheets and junior Anthony Wilso at the guard spots, while Travis Matherly and Ben Jackson will man the tackle positions. Those spots are not set in stone, however, as Kyle Ayers and Dakota Sizemore are also pushing for playing time.

The new quarterback is junior Brent Osborne, who was part of three state playoff teams last year — baseball, basketball and football. He was Johnson’s backup a year ago, and he did some good things, completing 3 of 4 passes for 27 yards. He also rushed for 97 yards on 21 carries, although Lilly said he’s a pocket passer first and a runner second, the opposite of what Johnson was for the Flying Eagles the last couple of seasons.

Osborne will have come good targets in Nabors, Hancock and Creed, as well as sophomore Hunter Foster.

In the backfield, Lilly and Mickey will get a lot of carries,as will Hancock, who had 191 rushing yards last season.

“Our offense will stay basically the same,” said Lilly, promising there wouldn’t be a huge overhaul with the losses of so many key skill players. “We’ll just have to mold it around our kids and do what fits them. We’ve got good backs and plenty of speed on the edge.”

MAKING STOPS: Defense will be key for a Woodrow team that gave up a little more than 28 points per game last season.

Lilly is the star on that side, starting at inside linebacker. The senior made 122 total tackles last year, including a sack. Mickey, who had 52 tackles a year ago, will be the other inside linebacker.

On the outside, Woodrow will go with junior Nick Cook and sophomore Dylan Foster. Neither saw much time last season but will be counted upon to be run stoppers on the edge.

Up front, the Flying Eagles will rely heavily on two talented defensive ends in Noah Hancock and sophomore Justin Ward. Both are blessed with size and speed and should put serious pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The defensive tackle spots will go to Matherly and Ayers.

“We really like our depth in our front six,” said Lilly. “We’ve got quite a few guys back.”

There will have to be some players step up in the secondary, where Woodrow will start a few new faces. Chase Hancock and freshman Mecko Harris will likely start at the corner spots with Osborne manning the free safety position.

“Everybody thinks we were hurt by losing the skill players on offense, but it hurt us more on defense,” said Lilly. “We have to re-establish our secondary a little bit.”

STANDING IN THE WAY: The Mountain State Athletic Conference always presents a challenging slate, but Woodrow is taking on some strong teams outside of the conference, as well, including Oak Hill, Greenbrier East and Hedgesville.

In the league, the Flying Eagles will battle the likes of Huntington and Cabell Midland, as well as Capital and Parkersburg.

“We have to realize that there can’t be a letdown,” said Lilly. “There’s nobody that we play that you can say, ‘That’s a win.’ We can’t let up against anybody.”

WHAT’S IN STORE: Although it’s obvious that replacing players like Johnson and Edwards — both of whom shined in the North-South All-Star game — is no easy task, Lilly likes what he has in place.

“We have kids thart are playoff tested in a lot of sports,” said Lilly. “I think that makes a difference. They’ve been in big games and understand what it takes.”

They key, he said, is building depth. In a league like the MSAC, a 10-game season takes its toll on almost every player, and backups are sure to see some action.

“I’ve come to realize that in this league it’s not how good your No. 1s are,” said Lilly. “It’s about how good your No. 2s are, because they’re going to play. We’ve been working hard to build some depth.”

Now he’s ready to see how it will play out on the field.

“The biggest thing we worry about is the unkown,” said the veteran coach. “Until you get out there and play, you never really know what you have.”


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