The days of shootout football in Wise seem to be over.
It used to be the norm to walk into Carl Smith Stadium on a brisk fall afternoon and expect a score resembling that of a high school basketball game.
Insert head coach Dane Damron and his staff, which includes Shap Boyd at defensive coordinator.
Since that duo took their first exit off Route 23 in 2016, the UVa-Wise football program has sported a .500 record. It is not really eye-catching until you consider that from 2013-2015, the overall record was 5-28. Take into consideration that the last time the Cavalier football team won at least half their games in a two-year span was 2008-09 when they were 14-8.
Last year’s 5-6 mark included four losses by seven points or fewer. Shap Boyd, in his third season as defensive coordinator at UVa-Wise, knows his challenge.
“The foundation is there, but we’re going to have a lot of different kids,” said Boyd. “Ultimately, it’s not about what we did last year, we have to do it again this year.”
This year’s unit has to replace eight starters. The task of keeping the pace of last year’s nationally ranked stoppers will rest of the shoulders of senior linebackers Dylan Giovine (6’, 220) and Donovan Montague (6’3, 218). Giovine was among the team leaders in stops last year with 68. Montague’s name may ring a bell to Black Diamond District fans. The senior linebacker was a member of the Altavista squad in 2013 and ’14 who came through Honaker and Haysi on their way to back-to-back state championships.
Unlike the defense, the offensive side of the ball for the Cavs returns eight starters from the 2017 campaign, where they averaged 29 points and 345 yards per game.
Offensive coordinator Klay Koester, also in his third season at Wise, looks to an experienced group of linemen and a quarterback competition for improvement. Koester looks to cut down on the sacks allowed (40) and turnovers (30) that limited the Cavaliers last season.
Expect big years up front from Southwest Virginia boys Chase Cluesman (6’1, 270) from Lee and Rural Retreat grad Connor Patton (6’4, 278). Sage McBride (6’6, 266), Donovan Lynch (6’4, 320) and Will Pendergraph (6’2, 280) will play huge roles in the success of the offensive line this season.
Jarome Johnson (6’3, 162), Brycen Lee (6’5, 189) and Garrett Cropp (6’1, 210) all will battle for the coveted quarterback spot. Johnson, a D.C. native and more of a dual threat, gained over 750 yards through the air and 480 on the ground in 11 games last season while finding the end zone 12 times. Lee, a true passer from Mayo, Florida, unleashed 1,500 passing yards for 8 touchdowns in 10 games in 2017. Cropp is the new guy in town seeing limited action last season at MEC rival Concord.
The three quarterbacks will have plenty of artillery to work with as all-MEC WR Kalan Duverger returns for his last collegiate go-around. Last year, Kalan racked up 530 yards on 41 catches, scoring 8 touchdowns and numerous highlight catches that even had hall of famer Randy Moss singing his praises.
Jake Barnett, a 6’3, 249-pound junior from Big Stone Gap, is at tight end and will be a sold short yardage guy for the Cavs. Running backs Victor Mitchell and Von Purvis who are back to tote the rock along with former Graham G-Man Jamorya Cousin.
Mitchell and Purvis combined for almost 4,000 yards on the ground last year. Cousin was on the other side of the ball recording 18 stops in nine games at linebacker.
Two names—one local, stand out for the exciting special teams unit coached by Florida native James Guest.
Trevor Owens from Lebanon returns for his senior season as a Cavalier pulling double duty as kicker and punter. In 2017, Owens was 24 of 24 at point-after attempts. He also put teams inside their own 20-yard line 20 times with his well-placed punting.
Marquis Hamilton was second team all-conference last year as a return specialist and looks to have another year as one of the nation’s best kick returners. In 2017, Hamilton, a Marshall University transfer, averaged 37.1 yards per return including a 99-yard return for a touchdown against Urbana.
Along with Barnett, Cluesman, Cousin, Owens and Patton, there are seven other faces from deep Southwest Virginia sporting the red and gray.
Seth Phillips, a freshman tight end from Grayson Co, Taylor Mullins, a freshman defensive end from J.I. Burton, Maurice Thompson, Jr. a junior defensive back from Eastside and Colin Wells, a redshirt freshman long snapper from Carroll Co. will play alongside the Richlands trio of Landon Mance (r-So, OL), Bryce Farris (r-Fr, DB) and Logan McGlothlin (Fr, OL) to represent coal country.
2018-19 will be the last year UVa-Wise athletics will be in the Mountain East before departing to the geographically more appealing South Atlantic Conference. Although it’ll be the Cavs swan song in the MEC, no one expects any calm waters this season.
“There’s some good teams in this league, it’s a really good league,” said Damron. “It’s 10 duals, its 10 wars and team 11 can beat anyone.”
This year’s squad was selected seventh out of 11 teams in the MEC preseason coaches’ poll at the league’s annual media day.
The Cavaliers begin their 2018 campaign tonight at home against MEC foe Glenville State, kick-off at Carl Smith Stadium is set for 7 p.m.. All games can be enjoyed via uvawisecavs.com.
I’m just a simple man. I enjoy breakfast food and beautiful women.
Homegrown Raven boy with a passion for sports and broadcasting.
Coming up this fall I will have broadcast close to 500 sporting events including football, baseball, basketball, volleyball, soccer and even hockey at levels ranging from pee wee to professional in states such as Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, North and South Carolina, New York, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.
But one thing has always been certain, high school athletics in Central Appalachia have always been where I could find the most passionate fans and participants.
I’m excited to be a part of this great team and look forward to sharing with you just some of my musings here on the site.