DELBARTON — Calling 2018 a disappointing season for Mingo Central would be a bit unfair — after all, the Miners did earn a share of the Cardinal Conference crown and made the playoffs, falling to Point Pleasant in the first round.
But in comparison to the standards the program set in the previous two seasons with a Class AA championship in 2016 and a semifinal berth in 2017, last year certainly left the Miners looking for more. With eight starters back on both sides of the ball, Mingo may just have the weapons and the experience to put itself back in the mix with the state's elite.
"We got a lot of guys back that played for us last year and then we got some new faces," coach Josh Sammons said. "Building off what we did last year, I think we should be able to improve from where we finished."
Any talk of the Miners has to begin with junior quarterback Daylin Goad, who piled up a whopping 3,266 yards and 46 touchdowns a year ago. Top target, senior Drew Hatfield, also returns to continue his brilliant prep career. Hatfield caught 84 balls last year for 1,389 yards and 21 touchdowns. For his career, he stands at 3,256 receiving yards and 44 scores. Younger brother Devin Hatfield made a nice introduction to the state as a freshman a year ago, hauling in 49 passes for 794 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior Isa Scales (16 catches, 223 yards) will add depth on the outside for Goad.
Dougie Dillon was set to come back for his senior season at running back but was ruled ineligible. Instead, a platoon of junior Zach Patrick, freshman Kaeden Bolding and senior Tanner Cisco are expected to be in the mix behind an offensive line featuring four returners -- Jacob Lester, Eli Jones, Scott Collins and Branson Nagy.
Yet another returner on the offensive side is coordinator Joey Fields, who was the head coach at Central two years ago before moving to the panhandle and spending a year as an assistant under Dave Walker at Martinsburg.
As explosive as Mingo figures to be offensively, it will have to shore up a defense that yielded 29 points per game last season. Senior linebackers Westan Christian, Levi Davis and Ryan DeBoard are back to lead that venture.
After going a combined 16-14 in the last three years with no playoff appearances, the Tigers will have to rely on a young roster of 38 players to try and break through this time around.
Quarterback Chase Berry is back for his senior season after throwing for 1,113 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. Senior Waylon Hensley is Berry's top returning target after catching nine passes for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year.
The Tigers return three starters up front in senior tackles A.J. Kirk and Dakota Davis as well as junior center Chris Samson. The competition for who will log carries is a mix of 10 guys - all whom are inexperienced.
Josh Bumgarner and Josh Atwood will share fullback snaps while also anchoring the defense at linebacker.
Back in the secondary is Alex Freeman, a three-year starter at cornerback that should help anchor the defensive backfield.
"We have the potential to have a good season," coach Rob Dial said. "Our depth in certain positions is concerning but we have some good experience returning."
Head coach Jimmy Sheppard is in a much better position both in terms of comfort and personnel in season two with the Wildcats.
Despite losing quarterback Chucky Felder to graduation, the Wildcats return seven experienced offensive linemen up front.
Power back Troy Cowart should be fun to watch at 6-foot-2, 290 pounds and he will also see time at linebacker where 12 players are in the mix for snaps.
Junior Corey Townsend is Logan's most seasoned returner at wideout and caught 14 balls for 195 yards and a touchdown in 2018.
"I think that we're pretty good at most positions," Sheppard said. "We have a good receiving corps, a good running back and a good offensive line where we got a lot of kids back from last year."
After three years away from the program, Shane Griffith, the winningest coach in school history, returns to try and turn around a team that was 1-9 a year ago.
"It feels good," Griffith said. "Three years ago when I left and went into being a principal, I kind of started to realize I hadn't fallen out of love with coaching like I thought. I still love being a coach. This opportunity came up and it's rare to get a chance to go back and retrace some footsteps."
Senior Caleb Dingess will see time at wideout and running back in addition to handling punting duties. Michael Clay, a junior, will return to play quarterback after suffering a season-ending broken collarbone a year ago.
Griffith inherits a young team short on experience but long on potential.
Outside of Dingess, Griffith expects eight or nine underclassmen to vie for carries and receptions. Rookie Clay Matthews has stood out in the backfield so far and flashes slashing speed and north-south mentality.
That youth trend continues up front where Griffith estimated that four sophomores could start on the offensive line along with a senior and a freshman also in the mix.
Second-year coach Zach Davis won't see many familiar faces at Nitro, but the most recognizable face for a program returns as quarterback Trevor Lowe (83-of-147, 1,026 yards) is back.
Lowe has to find a new skill set for 2019, however, after the team lost its top four targets in the passing game, plus its top two rushers, from last season.
Anthony Jackson and Trey Hall join Dallas Hazelett and Logan Vest as targets while Cameron Davis is likely to get touches in the backfield.
On the offensive and defensive fronts, seniors Nathan Murray and Hunter Humphrey lead, along with big junior J.C. McKay. Seniors Austin Wines and Charlie Cooke will boost the defense at linebacker and safety, respectively.
Poca coach Seth Ramsey has plenty to be excited about in 2019 with running back Ethan Payne returning after missing the team's final four games due to an avulsion fracture in his right hip.
The team finished 9-2 last season on the strength of Payne, who rushed for 1,081 yards and 17 touchdowns in only seven games.
This year, the offensive line in front of him is deeper and more experienced, which could lead to big things for the Dots.
"Ethan, I really think he's a 2,000-yard back," Ramsey said. "We're finally to a point where we've got some older guys that haven't played a whole lot, but they've been in the weight room for three or four years, and now we've built up that depth.
In addition to depth up front offensively, defensive line depth is also a strength as the Dots go head-to-head in the Cardinal Conference.
Like last season when Payne was lost, the Dots will again be forced to move forward without a key cog after senior Owen McClanahan tore his ACL during the three-week summer period.
Sissonville must replace do-it-all quarterback Will Hackney, which means replacing 3,006 yards and 39 touchdowns of offense - no easy task.
Head coach Marc Wilson has some virtual unknowns after graduation losses, but is excited about his team as 2019 approaches.
"We graduated such talented players and the guys we have coming in are unknown," Wilson said. "You just have to figure out how to get the next guy ready to play."
Junior Dylan Griffith headlines a group of returnees, giving Wilson versatility to play multiple positions on both sides of the ball. Senior Gavin Shamblin also returns at the fullback and defensive end spots.
Junior Elijah Thompson will be another key two-way player for the Indians, along with juniors Tyler Young and Stevie Carpenter.
Parker Shamblin and Ripley transfer Jackson Foster are competing for the quarterback spot, which will lead a balanced, open system for Wilson.
Herbert Hoover finished 1-9 last season as the injury bug bit hard, but last year's struggles could be 2019's rewards with seven full-time starters on each side of the ball returning.
Senior running back Ben Kee is the catalyst after rushing for 1,321 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Nick Grayam slides over from tight end to quarterback to lead the Huskies' run-heavy attack.
Defensively, Herbert Hoover wants to improve on a unit that yielded nearly 38 points a game last season.
Kee and Grayam also will be key toward that improvement, taking spots at linebacker.