By Cam Huffman
2012 IN REVIEW: Last season was a good one in Summersville. In fact, it may have been the best in school history.
Nicholas County started the year 3-3 with losses to Greenbrier West (24-22), Oak Hill (40-0) and Robert C. Byrd (31-7) and wins over Poca (27-7), East Fairmont (25-7) and Clay County.
Following the loss at Robert C. Byrd, the Grizzlies had an off week, and it was after that break that the season really turned magical.
Nicholas County won three straight to end the regular season, beating Lincoln County, River View and Mingo Central. The final regular season game against Richwood was canceled because of snow, but the Grizzlies earned a Class AA playoff berth and rolled past Ritchie County 31-7 for the school’s historic first playoff victory.
Eventual state champion Wayne ended the year, beating the Grizzlies 47-0, but a 7-4 season that included a postseason victory is one Nicholas County fans will long remember.
“We struggled early but came together after Week 6,” said head coach Gene Morris. “We really started playing well.
“Winning a playoff game was big. Breaking through gets people excited, and we can start having bigger goals.”
WHO’S BACK: The better question might be who isn’t back. Nicholas County lost only three seniors on each side of the ball, and almost all of the key skill players will be back on the field this fall.
It starts with senior quarterback Tyler Sagraves, who threw for nearly 1,000 yards last season and tossed eight touchdown passes compared to just three interceptions. Sagraves is in his third season as a starter and is comfortable running the offense.
“He can make plays throwing and with the run,” said Morris. “He has a calming effect in the huddle and plays with a lot of confidence.”
Junior running back Wil Mayes is another key returner on offense. He rushed for more than 500 yards last year and scored 10 touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, 6-foot-2, 270-pound nose guard Austin Hill is back after a junior season that saw him end the year as a finalist for the Register-Herald Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s been on the field on defense for four years,” said Morris. “He’s a special player on both sides of the ball.”
Hill is the center on offense.
HIDDEN GEMS: Finding new faces to brag about is difficult for Morris with so much experience back. But tight end Josh Gregory should have an increased role. He’s improved his size and strength and is poised for a big season.
Drew Amick and Brandon Jones are also expected to be key contributors on the offensive line.
“There just aren’t a whole lot of new faces,” said Morris. “That’s a great thing to have.”
PUTTING POINTS ON THE BOARD: The Grizzlies like to spread opponents out, but Mayes is a physical runner who makes defenses respect the ground game, as well. Andy Woods will also see some carries at fullback.
Sagraves’ top targets in the passing game will be last year’s leading receiver Jared Price, a 6-foot senior, and Joe Amendola, a 5-9 senior.
Up front, Hill anchors the line in the middle, with guards Amick and senior Cameron Woods beside him. The tackles are Jones and Wil Lemasters, a 200-pound senior.
MAKING STOPS: Nicholas County is going to put points on the board against most Class AA opponents. To improve on last year’s finish, it’s going to have to keep opponents’ scores a little lower.
That should be a realistic goal with a talented and veteran front seven. Hill again leads the way at nose guard, with seniors Drew Hicks and Hunter Coleman lining up as defensive ends. The linebacking corps will consist of Mays and junior Caleb Simms in the middle and senior Cody Canterbury and junior Josh Jarvis on the outside.
Morris is more than confident in those guys. If there’s any worry it’s in the secondary, but he’s not overly concerned there, either.
Amendola and senior Wade Leggett will man the corner spots. Jacob Hopkins, a 5-10 junior, will start at strong safety, with Brandon McClung, a senior, lining up at free safety.
“They’re going to do the job,” said Morris. “I feel good about that.”
STANDING IN THE WAY: The Grizzlies will again face a difficult challenge right out of the gate with Greenbrier West coming to Summersville Friday night. Morris admits it will be a big game but doesn’t want to put too much on a single contest.
“We didn’t get them last year, and it didn’t hurt anything,” said Morris. “But we’d like to get them back. This team understands it’s a big challenge, but it doesn’t want to lose to them twice in a row. It’s helped them keep their focus.”
The rest of the schedule is similar to last year’s, but Robert C. Byrd will have to make the trip to Nicholas County this time around.
WHAT’S IN STORE: It’s hard for anybody associated with the Nicholas County program to be anything but excited about the upcoming season. With a historic year last year and almost everybody back, the bar has to be set high. But Morris also doesn’t want his team to believe anything will be handed to it.
“It’s a new season, and there will be new challenges,” he said. “The experience will be key, as long as we execute.
“We’ve won a game in the playoffs, and now we have set goals to win a couple more. We’ll just see how far that can take us.”
By Cam Huffman
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