WEST JEFFERSON — The start of the regular season is just one week away for the varsity football team and this year might be a little different for the Ashe County Huskies.
Ashe has just nine seniors and will have to have a lot of players playing both ways with fewer than 30 players on the varsity squad.
“We’re a very young group this year. We’ve been lucky the last couple of years with 22 and 16 seniors, this year we’ve got nine,” said head coach Brian Hampton. “But this is a hard working group of guys and a lot of fun to be around.”
With the smaller numbers on the team, staying in tip top shape will be more important than ever.
“We’ve done a lot more conditioning than we have the last few years. Our guys understand they’re going to be on the field a lot more and understand they’re going to have to play both ways,” Hampton said. “We’re going to have to stay on top of our conditioning throughout the year.”
Offensively, the Huskies do return a lot of talent at the skill positions. Senior quarterback Colin Ellis will have Skye Sullivan in the back field at running back and will have several weapons to throw to including all-conference wideout Judd Price as well as Grant Thompson, Jake Richardson, Matthew Greer and Corbin Coldiron.
On the line, Ashe will rely a lot on Ethan Shepherd.
“Ethan is really the leader of the offensive line. We’ve got a lot of guys on the line that are going to be really young” said Hampton.
Jesse Kemp, Logan Richardson, Travis Dillard, Hunter Knight and Tyler Harmon are all underclassmen who will see plenty of snaps on the line. The Huskies will also have the services of senior Will Taylor up front who did not play last season due to an injury.
Defensively, the Huskies did lose several key players including Alex Richardson, Luis Ramos and Garrett Miller to name a few. However, the defense still has a good amount of talent ready to shut down opposing teams.
“We’ve got three starters returning at linebacker with Tristen Jones, Matt Greer and Sam Henson and another guy with varsity experience in John Reavis,” Hampton said. “Jake Richardson on the line played a lot last year, we’re expecting him to step up and be a leader on the defensive line.”
So far during the first few practices, Ben Graybeal and Dylan Little have also impressed the coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball. Little is playing football after spending the previous two seasons on the varsity soccer team.
“Defensively, we’ve got some potential to be pretty good, we’ve just got to keep improving each day,” Hampton added.
Having a limited roster size will make staying healthy even more important and hopefully for the Huskies, the team can dodge the injury bug this season.
“You’re always worried about injuries, there’s always going to be a few key guys that you worry if they go down, what are we going to do,” Hampton said. “With our low numbers we’re definitely concerned about injuries, but at the same time, you just have to go out there and play. If something happens, you just have to have someone else step up.”
The Huskies will open the season at home against North Surry next Friday.
NC Preps Preseason Rankings
*as picked by the coaches
1. East Wilkes
2. Wilkes Central
4. Ashe County
5. West Wilkes
7. North Wilkes
Preseason Player of the Year: Ashe County QB Colin Ellis
Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-489-3062.