Can you smell it?
The air is getting crisp — for the moment. Fall is almost here. The grass is getting clipped and lines are being painted (well, maybe not at Ernie Hicks Stadium).
It’s football season.
2018 was a bounce-back year for the Blues, turning out an 8-5 record and a berth in the regional title game. That comes just a year after a 4-7 campaign.
The 2019 Blue Tornado are hoping to get back a running game this season, something that could help a new starting quarterback.
Richlands hosted a jamboree and a benefit game in August to gear up for the season.
The much-awaited jamboree with Belfry, Ky. and George Wythe drew a nice crowd, giving fans the first glimpse of the new quarterback battle.
Both senior Cade Simmons and sophomore Gavin Cox impressed, with the former earning the start, but splitting reps evenly.
The star of the show in both weeks has been the defense.
Against the powerhouse Belfry, after an initial 40 yard touchdown, the Blues clamped down, allowing only 29 yards on 19 plays after the touchdown.
Against Grundy in the benefit game, seniors Hayden Whited and Ethan Phipps lived inside the Golden Wave backfield, helping to hold the Wave under 100 total yards in the game.
All eyes on Friday will be who trots out behind the center. Both Simmons and Cox have flashed what it takes to be the signal caller inside a Greg Mance offense.
Simmons stood out against Grundy, going 7-9 through the air for 181 yards and four touchdowns. He also provided a 29 yard scramble to move the chains late in the first half.
Cox proved he also has a cannon, ultimately leading the offense on several drives in the second half, scoring a touchdown with his legs in the third period.
Simmons, while showing off his arm, also provides the ability to use his legs, opening up the potential for read option plays. Cox has a booming arm, just barely missing talented wide receiver Sage Webb on a couple throws in the jamboree.
The Blues return most of their 2018 defense, a unit that flashed potential. Fans will hear the names Whited and Phipps called frequently across PA systems in Southwest Virginia. The unit also features Webb at corner and a backfield that features only one new starter at CB.
If you’re looking for a sleeper player for the Blues, watch number 12 Jake Altizer at his hybrid LB/Whip spot. He’s shown ability to stop the run and defend the pass in preseason action.
This week the Blues play host to the Gate City Blue Devils inside the friendly confines of Ernie Hicks Stadium. The Blue Devils are coming off a 1-9 season, featuring a 42-7 loss to Richlands. After the season, Coach Chris Akers was let go and Gate City legend Jeremy Houseright comes over from Rye Cove.
The Devils will be led by quarterback John Sallee. Look for a return to the ground and pound, smash-mouth football from the team in white on friday.
A large subplot of the season opener is Head Coach Greg Mance. Mance, who has led the Blues since 1997, is looking for his 200th career win at Richlands. He currently sits at 199.
Game time for the season opener is 7 p.m.
There’s just something about growing up in this area that lends itself to sports. Friday nights are the undisputed king. We all head to the local high school to catch a glimpse of those boys of fall.
That was no different in Richlands where I grew up with a love and a passion for those Blue Tornado. Unlike my co-host, I never strapped that lightning R on my head. I took the band route instead. But that didn’t stop me from becoming most school spirited my senior year, a title I still proudly wear today.
Leaving to get my degree at Virginia Tech actually helped solidify all that I love about this area. Sure, football is a big deal in the NRV as well, but it’s just not the same. And that’s okay. Our area is special.
I’m happy to be back in SWVA this fall and I’m ready to bring you a plethora of content options as we embark on this thing called life. RIP Prince.
Oh, and Hunt Bros. Pizza is the best pizza.