That best describes the Ashe County High football team. The Huskies, who are about to begin their
second season under head coach Brian Hampton, are looking for better results in 2013.
The Huskies, who haven't had a winning season since 2008, were 4-8 last year. On the upside, the Huskies made their tenth straight appearance in the state playoffs. On the downside, the Huskies lost to Newton-Conover in the opening round.
"We just weren't a very good team fundamentally last year," Hampton said. "We were a poor tackling team. That's something we've really stress this off season, and I have a lot of confidence in these guys. We're going to be much better in that department this year."
Another huge plus is the return of senior safety Micheal Elliott. Elliott, a returning captian, is coming off a solid junior year. He backboned Ashe County's defense on the gridiron, and he was a state finalist in wrestling last March (he lost to Josh Stephens of Chase in the state finals at 145 pounds).
"The funny thing about Micheal is that he is such a nice guy off the field," Hampton said. "He gets along with everybody. But get him between the lines, and he's full of intensity. He's a smart guy, he knows our defensive scheme, and he's the guy that will line up our defense this season. I'm expecting a lot from him this season."
The Huskies will run a 4-2-5 defense, or a multiple eight this season. Senior defensive end Cullen Ashley (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), junior tackles Nick Gregory (6-1, 230) and Jason Baker (5-11, 250), and senior defensive end Mitchell Brown (6-2, 245) will anchor the defensive front.
"I really like those guys up there," Hampton said. "They're a physical bunch, and they have good, deceptive speed. I was really impressed with Nick last weekend against Surry Central (in a scrimmage game). He's our biggest weapon up front. He's quick and has good speed for his size. He created a lot of match up problems last week in that scrimmage game.
"And Mitchell was real dominant as well. He really dedicated himself in the off-season. He really put in the work, and it showed in that scrimmage game."
Senior Matthew Hamilton (5-10, 160) moves from cornerback to outside linebacker this season. He'll be joined at linebacker by junior Shawn Baker (5-10, 190, and Jason Baker's twin brother), senior Alex Laws (6-1, 180), who started last year and will also see time in the secondary, and senior Dustin Guy.
"And the team is really pulling for Dustin to stay healthy this season," Hampton said. "He's battled injuries the last two years. A knee injury early last year knocked him out of the line up. He tried to comeback, but it just didn't work out. If he stays healthy, and with Matthew moving to linebacker, we should be pretty athletic in that area."
Elliott, Jacob Blevins, who was the Mountain Valley Conference champion in the 100-meter dash and the long jump in track last spring, along with Kenny Reed, who had a strong season at the junior varsity level last fall, will anchor the secondary. Keith Miller, who suffered a shoulder injury in the spring, gives the Huskies some depth at cornerback.
"Jacob is our best cover guy, no doubt about it," Hampton said. He's also our fastest guy, and he's an excellent skill player. And our numbers are pretty good, especially among the juniors and seniors.
"We've got 70 kids out, but I will only have 25 junior varsity players this season. We're a little lean among the freshmen and sophomores. But We have a large junior class, and that's the foundation of our team."
The Huskies have 27 juniors and 13 seniors on this year's squad. Sophomore Mason McNeil (6-1, 155) will be the only JV player (at least for now) that Hampton will promote to varsity. McNeil has great hands, he can run and he's very athletic.
"Heck, he can dunk a basketball," Hampton said. "He's probably our best receiver. We'll throw it this season, because we want to get the ball in Mason's hands."
McNeil will be joined by Jacob Worley (5-10, 165), a junior who didn't play last season, and Laws, who will also see some time at wide out. The Huskies will play a multiple I this year, and senior Jonathan Cox will backbone the running game. He led the Huskies with 1,300 rushing yards last season, but Cox, and all-MVC performer last fall, is sidelined at the moment. He suffered a knee injury at the Surry Central scrimmage last weekend.
"He definitely won't play in our season opener (August 23 at North Surry)," Hampton said. "He might be back for Watauga (the following week on August 30). All I'm concerned about is making sure he's 100% before he comes back, and if he doesn't play until conference (at Alleghany on September 27), that will be fine with me."
Guy hopes to fill the void, if he can stay healthy, at tailback; Brandon Wangler, a coverted guard and an excellent blocker, will be the fullback. Guy scored a touchdown in last Saturday's scrimmage game at Surry Central. Miller (shoulder injury), if he returns, will add some depth at tailback.
Junior Connor Bowers (6-1, 170) will open the season at quarterback. He was promoted from the JV team midway through last season. Bowers, who can run if he has to, is primarily a drop-back passer with a pretty good arm.
"Conner doesn't have a great arm, but he's really improved his arm strength," Hampton said. "And he can make the tough throws, and he can get the ball to the right people. Coming up to varsity last year was huge for him. It allowed him to adjust to the speed of the game. He's a good decision maker back there."
But it all depends on the offensive line. And the Huskies are blessed with two returning starters up front in senior center Sam Phillips (6-1, 220) and junior guard Luke Cullifer (6-2, 260). Brown will anchor one of the tackle spots.
"And we're still working people in there," Hampton said. "Those three guys give us good size up front. We're not very big size wise at the skill positions, but we have some size up front and that's going to help us a lot."
Phillips is a two-year starter; Cullifer will most likely miss the season opener because he's been ill.
"The big thing for us is to stay healthy this year," Hampton said. "We've really worked on our conditioning during the off-season. I don't want a lot of guys going both ways. I'm trying to get as many guys involved as possible. But we're battling some nagging stuff right now, and we just have to work through it. The main thing is being healthy when it counts the most at conference time."
Another area of concern is special teams. The Huskies don't have a strong kicking game. As of now, sophomore Kendall Richardson (6-4, 250) could handle both the punting and kicking choirs. But that's isn't etched in stone.
"I'm talking with our soccer coach, Wes Russo, and maybe we can get some of the soccer players to help us out in that area," Hampton said. "But I'm happy with our talent and our team. We've got a great group of guys, and they really dedicated themselves during the off-season. Now, we have to get it done on the field."
The Huskies open the season at North Surry on August 23; they play Watauga in their home opener on August 30.
2013 ASHE COUNTY FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
AUG 23 @ North Surry
AUG 30 Watauga
SEP 06 @ R.J. Reynolds
SEP 13 Hibriten
SEP 20 Open Date
SEP 27 @ Alleghany*
OCT 04 Wilkes Central*
OCT 11 West Wilkes*
OCT 18 @ East Wilkes*
OCT 25 @ North Wilkes*
NOV 01 Starmount*
NOV 08 Elkin*
* - Denotes Mountain Valley Conference games