Coalfields Region Preview Part One
With the season rapidly approaching, Coalfields and Co. will be putting out an eight part series (four regions- two parts each) to preview the upcoming season. From the top teams to the dark horses that are looking to break into the playoffs, we will attempt to cover mostly every team that the Mountain State has to offer. In our series, we divided the state into four regions. Covering each corner of the state and letting you know about players and stories that you need to keep an eye out during the 2017 season. Without further to do, here is part one, the Coalfields Region.
This region runs through the soul of West Virginia, where the coalfields once raged and the idea of a West Virginian was truly born. This region has produced incredible talents and phenomenal teams over the many years. Looking at the region this year, however, makes it tough to really see a group of teams that will make noise this year. Excluding Mingo Central, there are teams that have some major question marks and a few dark horses that are sprinkled into the mix. Other than Mingo, it’s tough to decipher if there will be a dominant team come out of this region.
Is Bluefield Back?
Bluefield had a mess of a season in 2016. Struggling to see 4 wins after starting out 0-3 with losses to their three main rivals, the Beavers had a disappointing season to almost anyone’s standards let alone the lofty expectations that come with the Bluefield program. The good news is that many of those young players that played significant minutes are back meaning experience. Mookie Collier is the blood of the Beavers, a top player in the state across any level, and will need to perform well for his team to follow. There is plenty of firepower for the Beavers to get back on track but the question is if their offensive line and defensive line play will improve. I can only improve.
The schedule is easier to navigate than most years for Bluefield. We have seen Bluefield travel to North Carolina and play top quality private schools out of Charlotte for many years. This year seems much easier, and puts them primed for a run back into the AA playoffs. Picking up games teams like Tazewell (VA), and Man lightens up the load a little bit. The game that will determine their season, however, we believe is the opener with Graham (VA.). A huge rivalry which we have talked at length about, but after the destruction that occurred last season at the hands of the G-Men, this will give either huge momentum or create a roadblock early on.
Is Bluefield back? Who knows? We will find out soon with their first three games being key games and large rivalries. There is talent on that team and Bluefield has the athletes to compete with anyone in AA and most of AAA. The question is their offensive line, can they survive up front? We have the Beavers finishing 7-3 next season. The three losses come at the hands of Graham(VA), Richlands(VA), and Point Pleasant. That’ll put Bluefield ranked somewhere from 9-13, and that’ll be a scary first round game for anyone.
Triple A Question Marks
The big school division for the region has shrunk since the reclassification from the previous year. Leaving only Greenbrier East, Princeton, and Woodrow Wilson as the only AAA programs in the region. Hopefully, this changes with the next round of classifications coming around. For now, this will have to do. Each one of the schools are coming off subpar years to say the least. Greenbrier East won both matchups with the other AAA schools in the region, and Princeton and Woodrow still do not play after the Tigers had an uneasy exit from the MSAC. Each school comes into 2017 looking to improve and attempting to make a push for the State Playoffs.
Princeton enters the 2017 campaign with a new head coach after Wes Eddy left to go to East Fairmont. Chris Pedigo, a longtime assistant in the Princeton program, received the nod to lead the program in a new era. The late departure of Eddy gave the Tigers very little time to make moves before the June practice period; the delayed start will put the Tigers behind the rest. The Tigers still have a brutal schedule since leaving the MSAC. Down the stretch of the year, the Tigers will play Parkersburg South, Mussleman, Graham(VA), Wheeling Park, and Brooke. None of those teams will be easy games, and the Tigers will have to play well to get a victory. Bluefield and Princeton is always a big game, and Greenbrier East pounded the Tigers 44-0 the year before. James Monroe has been on a roll the past 3 seasons, making it to the AA semifinals last season. Oak Hill has been talked to be on the rebound after a few seasons. The question bares, did the Tigers schedule get easier after leaving the conference or are they stuck in limbo?
Woodrow Wilson continues to battle in the absolutely brutal MSAC slate. Facing nearly 6 pre-season top 10 teams before there is even a kickoff. Woodrow does look to improve though, as many of the Sophomores and Freshman are now a year older and a year wiser. Micah Hancock will give them firepower in the backfield and is one of the top players in the region. Woodrow returns a three-year starter at QB which will hopefully pay dividends in the progression of the offense. This is the second season with their coach, and we expect the team to be more solidified. However, it is essential for Woodrow to win games early to build momentum to go into the lion’s den of the MSAC- perhaps, the toughest schedule in the state.
Greenbrier East is one of the teams and is very quiet, especially during the off-season and June practice periods. Not a lot of information typically comes around about the Spartans, as they are typically an outcast on the far side of Greenbrier County. The Spartans were young as well last season, after losing a very talented team the year before that played right with Martinsburg in the state playoffs. They have the most navigable schedule out of the three teams in the region. Games with Lord Botetourt (VA), Allegheny (VA), and Spring Valley will be their three toughest contests of the season. With the AAA classifications in such a flux, a 6-4 or even 5-5 record could put the Spartans in the playoffs.
In Mingo We Trust.
It’s no secret by now that there is a lack of confidence coming from the region when it comes to teams the we believe will make noise in the state. AA is always interesting to watch in the coalfields as many of the teams and rivalries have lasted decades and the region is thick in AA. Those schools will battle each other, and will bring up many interesting headlines with those teams fighting for playoff positions. The team that will be leading the charge out of the region is the Miners from Mingo Central. Coming in at an impressive #3 in overall rankings throughout the state and #1 in AA after an impressive 2016 campaign where they won the title over Fairmont Senior.
Everyone knows that the Miners are returning arguably the best player in the state and the Kennedy Award winner in Jeremy Dillon. What people don’t know is that the rest of the team is incredibly talented as well. The rise of the Miners has been built on the backs of their offensive line, which has shown to be physical and tough even if they lack in overall size. Dalton Fields, senior guard, is a top player in the region. He embodies the Mingo mindset which has pushed them to this stage. Mean, stocky, and wears fluorescent jerseys. Another weapon that starred last season is sophomore phenom Drew Hatfield. After a thunderous state title performance, Hatfield looks for even more touches (including kick and punt returns) with the departure of Joe Hunt (all state running back and State Title Game MVP).
They are loaded, are they our only hope in the Coalfields region of the state? I don’t believe so, but they have a ton of hype riding on them. Coming off a title and returning a pretty good team with the pre-season #1 ranking will put a lot of pressure on them. Replacing Yogi Kinder will be tough as well, but Joey Fields has been in the program since its start and is more than capable of leading the Miners. They play in a difficult conference, the toughest in AA and possibly the state. A culture of football and winning has begun thriving in Matewan. This is attracting small town players such as Dawson Elia (all state running back from Tug Valley), and created a lot of confidence. We’ll have to see, but either way, it’ll be fun to watch.
Teams to Watch Out For
The Golden Knights enter year number three under Head Coach Larry Thompson’s tenure, and this could be the season where the Knights really take off. The last time the Knights made the state playoffs was 2006 where they suffered a 33-14 loss to Grafton in the first round of the AA playoffs. Since then, quite a bit has changed. Mount View dropped from AA to A. Clouds of darkness loomed over the historically excellent area- bringing question marks on if that level could be reached again. The previous generation failed to live up to the Mount View standard which used to compete at the top of AAA. This year however, the Knights are primed, and ready for getting back to glory. They have athletes who can ball. Led by the duo of Elijah Collier, an undersized yet effective quarterback, and Elijah Barner, a big bodied back with break out potential. Mt. View has a straight shot at the postseason and will be a handful for any competitor. We have them finishing 7-3 for the year with their losses all being toss ups at.
A team that has grown up together, put through the pains of youth and being forced to grow up quickly. This team has firepower, and is well coached. Midland Trail is similar to Mount View in ways and very different in others. Similar in the form that they were once contenders at the AAA and AA levels for years. A team that has had a great amount of tradition in success, especially in the single A division. The last time the Patriots entered the Single A playoffs was in 2008, where they came across Wheeling Central Catholic, losing 42-24 in the first round. The rebuilding process has taken time and many obstacles came in their way. A reliance will be put on hard-nosed running back Thomas Ferris It will be tough for the Patriots to make the playoffs, as a stacked schedule stands in their way. We officially have them finishing 7-3, but they could easily finish 8-2 or 6-4. There are some very big games that will determine their season, and that could let them finish in either direction.
Will Jordan Dempsey be capable of another stat packed season for the Pirates of Fayetteville? He is absolutely vital if they want to return to the state semifinals a second year. Expectations are just as high for James Monroe as any other team in the region. Finishing 11-2 the previous year after goose egging Point Pleasant and losing to Mingo Central- Grant Mohler, a top player in the region, needs a banner year for their success. Can the Independence defense ran by Matt McKinney, Logan Muncy, and Connor Gibson improve on their 9-3 record? Nicholas County and Zach Payne want another successful season- but they aren’t just looking for wins, they’re looking for titles. Can Chapmanville’s air raid consisting of Adam Vance and Dylan Smith carry them to the postseason? Will AA’s such as Liberty (Raleigh), Westside, Shady Spring, or Wyoming County break from the 3-7 to 5-5 middle class of AA? Or is the 6’4 240-pound sophomore QB, David Early, from Logan going to run through them? Is Man going to move from their 5-5 record with their new spot in AA, or continue their success in reclassification like Summers County? Sherman’s Will Hensley and Van’s Brady Grant will need more help to push their teams deeper into the playoffs. And we are all hoping for a change in the tides of recent bottomfeeders Pikeview, River View, Meadow Bridge, Greenbrier West, Richwood, Oak Hill, and Montcalm. There’s still talent on those teams such as Wil Bragg and Brock Muncy- change is possible. We’re excited to have all of our questions answered. Prove us right, or prove us wrong- either way is fine with us.
Greenbrier East @ Woodrow Wilson (September 1st) – This game will be a huge difference maker for both teams. Both will need to win this game to get the points to make a playoff push. With the intensity and the importance of this game, it will be a great one to watch.
Independence @ James Monroe (September 8th) – Both teams lost studs from the previous season but there will be plenty of players on the field when these two go head to head. From a pre-season look, this game will be huge when it comes to playoff positioning.
James Monroe @ Nicholas County (September 29th) – Two of the best teams last season in the AA Coalfields Region went head to head with the Grizzlies pulling out a 25-9 victory in Lindside. That loss would be the Mavericks only regular season loss, and the Grizzlies were undefeated in the regular season against AA opponents. This matchup could very easily be the same situation as it was the year before.
Greenbrier West @ Midland Trail (September 1st) – Early season matchups against a perennial Single A power and a dark horse for the 2017 season. We will find out if the Cavaliers are back after a dip in results and we will find out if Midland Trail is for real.
Fayetteville @ Midland Trail (October 13th) – The Pirates come in after a very successful 2016 season after going to the Single A semifinals. These schools are literally only a few miles separated from each other and this might be the most important game these two have played against each other in many years.
Mount View @ Notre Dame (September 29th) – This game is a must win for the Knights if they want to go to the Single A playoffs. They will make the trip to Clarksburg and can be in great position to make a run for the playoffs.
Sherman @ Van (September 22nd) – There has been rumblings of noise from both of these teams, and it’s going to be interesting what they do this season. This game could be a determining factor of how their respective seasons go and could put them in position to slip into the Single A playoffs.
Independence @ Summers County (October 6th) – Going to be fun as Chris Vicars returns to the school he took to the AA playoffs the year before. Both teams have been on the upswing in recent years but coaching changes could make that trajectory go in a different direction.