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HUNTINGTON — Gavin Lochow was grieving the death of his aunt Julie Ditty Qualls, but the Huntington High quarterback knew he had to play against Hurricane.

“It was hard, but I knew she would have wanted me to play,” Lochow said. “My teammates, the whole team, picked me up. They were there for me and my mom (Amy)”

Ditty Qualls, a professional tennis star from Russell, Kentucky, died from breast cancer last Tuesday. She was 42. How did Lochow know his aunt would want him to play? The Sunday before she died, Ditty Qualls was giving tennis lessons.

Lochow responded in a big way, completing 10 of 14 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown and rushing 12 times for 134 yards and a TD as the Highlanders won 33-0 on the road.

The 6-foot, 202-pound junior has completed 22 of 31 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception in two victories. He has run for 219 yards and three touchdowns on 26 attempts.

“He understands the game a lot better,” HHS coach Billy Seals said of the improvement Lochow has made in his third year as a starter. “He’s gotten bigger, too.”

Lochow said his mental and strength gains are just parts of his improvement. He said his footwork is better, which allows him to complete more passes. He also credited Huntington High’s offensive line, receivers and running backs for improving significantly since last year’s 3-6 season.

That Lochow is an outstanding athlete is no surprise. Amy starred in tennis at Furman University and his dad, Steve, was a standout linebacker at Russell High and the University of Dayton. Gavin’s sister, Haven, plays soccer and tennis at Georgetown College. His brother Torin plays basketball at Marietta College.

“My athleticism comes mostly from my mom,” Gavin said. “Well, and my my dad. Dad was a really good player and he’s helped me a lot.”

Gavin said he’s the best athlete of the Lochow kids.

“They’d probably disagree, but they know down deep that I am,” he said. “We’ve very competitive.”

The Highlanders’ quarterback said he, too, hopes to play in college. For now, though, Lochow’s focus is on arch-rival Cabell Midland. Huntington High entertains the Knights (2-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bob Sang Stadium in the Battle for the Shield. Cabell Midland has won eight of the last 10 in the series, including last year’s 42-7 triumph.

“We’ve practiced really hard,” Lochow said. “We’re locked in. We remember what happened last year and we have 42-7 on our locker room door to remind us. We have to approach it like any other game, but at the same time we know it’s a rivalry. They’re a really good team and we’ll have to play well.”

Tim Stephens is a sports writer with The Herald-Dispatch.

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