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Hilltoppers hope for better fortunes

Photo Provided West Liberty quarterback Jamie Diven, left, hands off to running back AJ Barmer.

WEST LIBERTY — There were a lot of negatives one could take away from West Liberty’s injury-plagued 2021 season in which the Hilltoppers finished with just a 4-7 record.

One of the positives to having so many injuries was the opportunites they opened up for a number of WLU’s younger players to step into larger roles. That may pay off in a major way in 2022 with many of those players coming back.

“We’re excited,” 18-year WLU coach Roger Waialae said at Wednesday’s MEC Media Day. “If you do this as long as I do, you have to be excited this time of the year. If I’m not excited about what we have here on the Hilltop, then I need to retire and go play golf for the rest of my life.”

West Liberty’s first major injury took place two days before the start of the 2021 season when all-conference running back Quincy Wimbish went down with a knee injury. Tyler Moler took full advantage of the opportunity that was provided, rushing for 902 yards and three scores last season.

“Coming out of Spring I think he was number three or four (on the depth chart),” Waialae said. “In the first game, we had a running back by committee and then he won the job. I thought he played extremely well and I think he’s still playing extremely well.”

With Wimbish back and looking better than ever this Fall, the Hilltoppers look to have one of the best running back duos in the conference this season.

“The biggest surprise to me (this Fall) has been how well Quincy Wimbish has healed over his achilles (injury),” Waialae said. “He’s actually faster and moving better than he did prior to the injury.”

Wimbish ran for 725 total yards in 14 games between 2019 and 2021 with eight touchdowns.

“What Quincy brings to the game for us is that he can go (the distance) at any time. Tyler is a more methodical, more beat-you-up type of running back so we’ve got a real good contrast there.”

Further complimenting the Hilltoppers’ running game is an offensive line flush with starting experience.

“We have four seniors who have probably started over 90% of the games over the last three years,” Waialae explained. “If you don’t have an offensive line that can compete, there’s not much that you can do. If you look throughout the years, the team with the best offensive line has won this conference.”

Like Moler, fellow redshirt-sophomore Jamie Diven took advantage of injuries and played six games at quarterback last season. He threw for 1,108 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021.

“The running game is important, you can’t be one dimensional in this conference,” Waialae said. “You have to be able to run the ball as effectively as you throw it.”

While Diven figures to be slinging the ball this Fall, it is not yet known who will be on the receiving end of his passes.

“There’s a lot of guys in the mix,” Waialae said. “If we had to separate and decide who’s on the travel squad for the first game, I couldn’t tell you at wide receiver right now.”

Waialae said there are 20 receivers competing for playing time right now that will have to separate themselves in one way or another over the next few weeks before the season opener on Sept. 1 at Clarion.

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