As the spring sports season wraps up on the hilltop, I can’t help but to think what the fall sports season will bring. Most importantly, how will the football team bounce back?
It was the turnovers that plagued the Black and Gold all season long as the offense gave up the ball 40 times (25 interceptions, 15 fumbles). New starting quarterback L.D. Crow never seemed comfortable in the pocket, being sacked 43 times while the unit as a whole only converted 23 percent of its third down attempts. The offensive line couldn’t stay healthy as there were new starters in the trenches every week.
With the lack of production from the offense, the defense struggled as well. The squad allowed 34 ppg and 78 percent of opponents trips to the red zone were turned into points (54 percent were touchdowns).
But that was last year.
This year, the West Liberty football team will once again become a dominate power in the West Virginia Conference, right? Well, there’s always a chance.
According to The Trumpet sports reporter Nathan Johnson, Crow will return as the Hilltoppers starting quarterback. The junior finished last season fourth in the WVC in average yards per game, fourth in total offense, and ninth in passing efficiency. No. 7 ended the year with 2,481 passing yards, a 54.8 completion percentage, and a 11:23 touchdown to interception ratio.
Eliminate the interceptions and that’s not horrible quarterback play considering the injuries to the offensive line and his first year being in a new system.
”I’ve been very pleased with L.D.’s progress [in spring drills],” Waialae said to hilltoppersports.com. ”He’s making good decisions, taking care of the ball and finishing off drives.”
According to Waialae, Crow’s only interception in spring practice came during the Black & Gold Game.
”We throw a lot at every practice and that was his first interception of the spring.”
The Black & Gold Game also showed that Crow and Brandon Schroeder will still be a dangerous duo next season. The wide out hauled in five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Schroeder had a break out season last year as he posted only the 10th 1,000 yard receiving season in school history. The sophomore ranked second in the WVC with 76 catches for 1,007 yards and 7 TDs. He was the only first team All-WVIAC selection from the hilltop.
However, Waialae says he plans to take some pressure of of the passing game and focus more on the running game next year.
”We made a commitment during the off-season to get better in the run game and I think we’re heading in the right direction there.”
Junior-college transfer Kenjay Trueblood is looking like he will be the feature back next fall. He was the spring game’s leading rusher with 7 carries for 55 yards.
”Kenjay ran the ball pretty well today and Alex [Adams] had a couple of good carries and has had a very good spring,” Waialae said.
But the best play of the spring has definitely come from the defensive line. Arguably the top unit last year, the squad looks just as dominate this season.
Leonidas Redding returns after receiving All-Conference Honorable Mention laurels as a junior. The nose guard was a run-stopping force for the Hilltoppers’, getting 9 starts and seeing action in every game. Redding ranked among the team leaders with 37 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks.
Kyle Agustine will once again head the linebackers. Despite leading the team in total tackles (91), tackles-for-loss (11) and solo tackles (53), the junior did not receive All-Conference honors. He’ll be looking to change that this season.
All-Conference Honorable Mention honorees Marco Ricchetti and Justin Black will highlight the secondary. Ricchetti ended the season second on the team in total tackles (71) and blocked three field goals.
Despite Ricchetti’s solid sophomore campaign, the free safety will have to step up his play next season. The Hilltoppers lost returning All-WVIAC strong safety Alec Wood to a knee injury during a non-contact drill midway through spring practice. The former Wheeling Park all-stater will redshirt this fall and return in 2013.
With 17 returning starters and 42 lettermen coming back, West Liberty seems to have some good pieces in place for next season. All except for one area: offensive line.
If the Hilltoppers can’t find good offensive line support, this team will struggle. It’s hard to run the ball when there’s no blocking and it’s hard to throw when 300 pound lineman are chasing you down. And it’s hard on the defense to constantly defend a short field.
Should the offensive line step up, this team could greatly improve its record from last year and take the next step into once again becoming a West Virginia Conference power. But if not, look for this team to struggle through the 2012 season.
2012 West Liberty Football Schedule
Sept. 1: Catawba (NC) (3-8, 2-5 SAC)
Sept. 8: at Virginia State (5-5, 4-3 CIAA)
Sept. 15: W.Va. Wesleyan (9-2, 6-2 WVIAC)
Sept. 22: at Fairmont State (7-4, 4-4 WVIAC)
Sept. 29: Glenville State (5-6, 5-3 WVIAC)
Oct. 6: at W.Va. State (9-2, 6-2 WVIAC)
Oct. 13: Shepherd (9-2, 6-2 WVIAC)
Oct. 20: Charleston (5-6, 5-3 WVIAC)
Oct. 27: at Seton Hill (1-10, 1-7 WVIAC)
Nov. 3: at Concord (7-4, 7-1 WVIAC Champions)
Nov. 10: UNC-Pembroke (8-3)
Kick-off time for all games is 1:00 p.m.