The Register-Herald, a sister newspaper of The Fayette Tribune, has already recognized the top offensive and defensive high school football players in the area over the last couple of weeks, and now it’s the coaches’ turn.
Here — on a list that includes, major turnarounds, in-season adjustments and consistent dominance — are our finalists for The Register-Herald Coach of the Year.
1) Joe Dean (Midland Trail) — In 2011, Dean guided Midland Trail to a 2-8 record, a positive jump after breaking a 26-game losing skid that same season. This year, the veteran coach helped the Patriots make an even bigger jump.
Midland Trail ended the 2012 season with a 6-4 record and were knocking on the door of the playoffs after winning two of their last three.
A 14-6 loss to a quality Valley team, in fact, is the only thing that kept the Patriots from making the post-season.
Dean ran an offense that fit the talents of senior Jake Grimmett, a Register-Herald Offensive Player of the Year finalist, and saw a four-win improvement from the previous season.
2) Josh Houchins (Summers County) — Like Dean, Houchins’ success on the gridiron this season can only be defined with a look back. In 2010, the Bobcats completed an 0-10 season. Then last year, they went from wins in no games to wins in half, finishing 5-5 but missing out on the playoffs with losses to Richwood and Valley in the final two games.
This year, Houchins didn’t let that happen.
The Bobcats first started talking playoffs after a 3-0 start that included wins over PikeView, James Monroe and Grafton, but they lost the next three, falling to Wyoming East, Greenbrier West and Covington (Va.), and suddenly they were back to .500 and many of the good vibes had been erased.
Even back-to-back wins over Independence and Meadow Bridge didn’t convince everybody. Summers County was 5-3 with two games to play, but it had been in the same spot in 2011 and came up short.
This year was different. After an open week to prepare, the Bobcats downed Richwood in convincing fashion, 42-20, and then picked up a win over a strong Valley club 28-20 to end the regular season at 7-3. That was enough to earn Summers County its first trip to the playoffs in quite some time.
3) Lewis McClung (Greenbrier West) — McClung doesn’t have a major turnaround story. His credentials for the award are based on the consistency of a Greenbrier West program that’s a yearly contender, whether that’s in Class AA or Class A.
This year’s Cavalier team was among the best. Aside from a turnover-marred 29-20 loss to Buffalo in the season’s fourth game, nobody touched Greenbrier West during the regular season.
The Cavs finished 9-1 overall and won six straight to end the regular season without a week off. West outscored opponents 256-68 during that stretch, and its closest game was a 46-28 win over Van.
West opened the Class A playoffs with a convincing 48-6 win over Meadow Bridge before falling 21-12 to eventual state champion Wahama in the second round.
The Cavs played Wahama as tight as anybody, proving themselves as one of the top teams in the state in Class A.
4) Gene Morris (Nicholas County) — Morris has had good regular seasons in the past with the Grizzlies. What set the 2012 season apart was success in the post-season.
After a 3-3 start that included lopsided losses to Oak Hill (40-0) and Robert C. Byrd (31-7) the chances of making the playoffs looked slim for Morris and Nicholas County. But after an open week, a different group of Grizzlies took the field.
Quarterback Tyler Sagraves began to see some time on defense, as well, and the move, as well as the experience of the early season, paid off for the Grizzlies. Nicholas County won its final three games to earn a No. 9 seed in the Class AA playoffs with a 6-3 record. Its final regular season game against Richwood had to be canceled because of an October snow storm that caused major problems in the area.
The week off before the start of the post-season, though, didn’t cause any rust. Nicholas County was more than impressive on the road at Ritchie County, winning 31-7, the first playoff victory in the school’s history.
The season ended with a loss to eventual Class AA state champion Wayne in the second round of the playoffs, but it was still a memorable year in Summersville.
5) Eddie Souk (Oak Hill) — Souk’s second year at Oak Hill, after moving over from Mount Hope after the two schools consolidated, looked as though it was going to be a difficult one. He was coming off a 4-5 season the year before, and the Red Devils were making the big jump up to Class AAA from Class AA.
But Oak Hill sent a message from the beginning that it would be a contender in its new class.
The Red Devils lost the opener to Elkins, but they scored 36 points in a 43-36 loss that could have gone either way.
They followed that with five straight victories, outscoring Webster County, Princeton, Nicholas County, Shady Spring and Point Pleasant by a combined Christmas all about the time of giving and the giving of timetotal of 210-47 as they improved to 5-1.
Back-to-back losses to Lewis County and Bluefield — a 51-50 setback that came down to a last-second field goal, had Oak Hill’s playoff future in jeopardy, but they responded by downing PikeView 62-6 and Lincoln County 72-42 to earn Class AAA’s final playoff spot with a 7-3 record.
Oak Hill fell to eventual state runner-up Cabell Midland in the opening round of the playoffs, but it was competitive for much of the game and headed home with its head held high after making the playoffs in its first year back as a Class AAA member.
The winner of the Coach of the Year will be announced in the Dec. 28 edition of The Register-Herald.
Fans can vote for their favorite candidate by visiting The Register-Herald (Official) Facebook page and leaving a comment in support of their favorite coach. The fan vote will count as one of six ballots, with The Register-Herald sports staff of Gary Fauber, Cam Huffman, Josh Rollins, Dan Stillwell and Rusty Udy casting the other ballots.
Oak Hill’s Jalen Jones captured the Offensive Player of the Year, and the Defensive Player of the Year was Woodrow Wilson’s Anthony Hosea.
— E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.