MORGANTOWN — After an unbeaten regular season in 2017, University High has struggled with experience and veteran leadership over the past couple of seasons.
However, that is something that veteran head coach John Kelley, entering his 35th season as the Hawks’ mentor, feels is going to be a strong point for his squad in 2021.
There is plenty of experience, talent and speed on University’s 70-plus man roster, and Kelley believes that could lead to big things for his current group.
Leading the offense, which is loaded with returning starters, is once again junior quarterback Chase Edwards (6-1, 175), who will backed-up by sophomore Luke Hudson (6-2, 175).
There are four returning starters across the offensive front wall to offer protection for Edwards, including junior center Jacob Stevens (5-8, 210), senior guard Matt Evans (6-2, 263) and both tackles in senior Corbin Turney (6-1, 291) and junior Gavin Powroznik (6-2, 247). The remaining guard spot will go to either senior Brekken Swafford (5-10, 292) or one of two sophomores in Anthony Rivera (6-2, 308) or Seth Drvar (6-0, 250).
A strong receiving corps will include a trio of returning starters in juniors Jaeden Hammack (6-1, 175), Sage Clawges (6-5, 180) and Noah Braham (6-3, 214) while senior running back Corban Cross (6-0, 182), Colin McBee (5-11, 220) and Daminn Cunningham (5-6, 154) all rotated and seen plenty of action during last year’s 3-4 record campaign.
Seniors Jackson Smith (6-0, 181) and Elija Jackson (5-11, 158) and sophomore John Coleman (6-2, 176) will see playing time at wide receiver with classmate Donald Brandel (6-2, 220) at tight end.
Coach John Kelly discusses the upcoming campaign
Defense also has plenty of experience led by Braham, son of former University High, West Virginia University and NFL player Rich Braham, at defensive end. The younger Braham was among the leaders in sacks in the Mountain State as a sophomore. Senior Daniel Henderson (5-9, 190) returns on the other side.
A four-man group of defensive linemen will all see playing time in junior Cody Bolyard (6-1, 339), Swafford, Turney and Rivera. Brandel, a three-year starter and one of the best in the state, returns at outside linebacker with other spot still up-in-the-air while McBee and Kolton Burns are both back on the inside. Both senior Joseph Miker (5-10, 170) and Sanchez-Solis will see plenty of action at linebacker as well.
A veteran group of defensive backs are highlighted by senior Corban Cross (6-0, 182) and Hammack at corner and Clawges at free safety. That trio played every defensive snap last year.
Sophomore John Coleman (6-2, 176) is the Hawks’ highly rated place kicker while there is a battle for the punter spot which could eventually go to senior Turner McKenzie (6-0, 187).
Eric Snyder is back as the offensive coordinator after a two-year absence after serving for 13 seasons under Kelley while Justin Hensley is on the defensive side. Other assistants include Donnie Tucker, Donnie Gilbert, Joe Plevich, Ben Clemens and Rich Braham.
“Expectations are high, and they should be,” Kelley added. “We have a lot of speed, talent and depth, which is big because you know you are going to lose a guy here and there during an 11-week season. Our offensive line is going to be a lot better than it has been and will be at a Class AAA-level size.
“I also know that our wide receivers can match up with anyone in the state with their size and speed. Edwards is coming off a great sophomore season at quarterback and Daminn Cunningham is a pretty special kid, and one of the best special teams players in West Virginia.
“We are really looking forward to this season, and hopefully we can have a normal year.”
University kicks off the season with home games against John Marshall and Parkersburg South before traveling to the Northern Panhandle for games at Brooke and Wheeling Park.
“I think the first three games are very favorable for us before we have a pair of battles with Wheeling Park and Fairmont Senior. No question that getting off to a good start could really mean a great year for us.”