2013 in review — A potent offense that featured a bevy of talented backs, with a stout, experienced line leading the way, propelled the Oak Hill Red Devils to their second straight Class AAA playoff appearance last November.
After an 8-2 regular season, Oak Hill very nearly gave veteran coach Eddie Souk Jr. a sweet going-away present in the form of a first-round playoff win. The Red Devils, though, dropped a 21-14 verdict in overtime to George Washington.
Souk retired at season's end, and his defensive coordinator, former OHHS all-stater Jason Blankenship, got the nod to take his place.
"It was the case of us exceeding some expectations last year," said Blankenship. "We gave George Washington a real good game.
"We lose on a halfback pass (in overtime) and George Washington almost goes on to beat Huntington."
"Overall, it was a good season," he continued. "We started out fast and picked up some wins."
Losses to Bluefield and Point Pleasant slowed things down some in midseason. "Against Point Pleasant, I had four replacements on the defensive line," Blankenship, the defensive coordinator, recalls.
"We recovered and bounced back and beat two rivals like Beckley and Greenbrier East back-to-back (and advanced to the playoffs)."
Three prolific backs — two-time first-team all-stater Jalen Jones, Jarrell Green and Kadrin Goodman — graduated, as did the bulk of the offensive line, Blankenship said.
Jones rushed for nearly 1,700 yards to power the OHHS offense. Green and Goodman combined for about 1,500 between them.
Opening the holes for the offensive attack were senior linemen Simeon Kees, Hunter Brash, Seth Keith, Kaleb Pietkoski and Charlie Carter. "Three (of the linemen) are playing college football (Kees at Glenville, Brash a WVU walk-on, and Keith at West Virginia Wesleyan). That's a big loss up front. We haven't chosen those five guys (replacements) yet."
Who's back — While the offensive backfield took a big hit, the quarterback — junior Deonte Scruggs — does return to direct the offense again. "Deonte's a lot more experienced and a lot stronger," said Blankenship.
Senior tight end/linebacker Joey Re is back for his final season. "Joey went from the soccer field to being a starting linebacker in a triple-A playoff game," Blankenship said. "He's very competitive; he's a leader."
Senior wingback/fullback Antwan Smith will be expected to "pick up a lot of slack on offense."
Defensively, Oak Hill returns more experience. "We do have quite a few guys back who started," said Blankenship.
The prevent posse all starts with senior Antonio Gray, whom Blankenship calls "arguably the best free safety in the state."
Smith is back at one defensive end, and Re and senior Jacob Lafferty will once again man linebacking spots. Starting lineman D.D. Outterbridge, a senior, returns, too.
New on the scene — Sophomore Dom Re has been "a surprise" in preseason practice, his coach said. The younger Re will start at safety and will handle kicking and punting chores. His efforts will help Oak Hill try to overcome the loss of Jones, who, besides his offensive exploits, also took care of kicking, placekicking, punting and was a key cog in the special teams return scenarios.
Sophomore Davonte Patrick, the younger brother of former Red Devil standout DeAndré Leonard, will start in the offensive backfield, and junior Will Prater, who transferred from Ohio during the second semester, is expected to earn the starting nod at fullback.
Scoring points — "We lost 48 of 54 TDs," Blankenship said. "The offense will be some of the same things, and we have also installed some new stuff to try to be more creative.
"We definitely will (seek) to throw the ball more, and not just in obvious passing situations, so teams don't put 10 people in the box on us."
Lafferty, Outterbridge and junior Tate Wykle will be among the offensive linemen.
Stopping opponents — With the offense expected to be a little slow out of the gates, Blankenship will turn to his defense to carry the water for the Red Devils in the early going.
"Early on, the offense may struggle, so we'll look at the defense to hold things down," said Blankenship. "We need to create some turnovers and put us in good field position."
Gray will spearhead the defensive attack. "I've been with him for four years. He's started since he was a freshman," said Blankenship. Seeing him in a practice early in his career, Coach (Matt) Boyd said, "He's got to start," said Blankenship. "He's a big hitter. I look for No. 8, because I know he's coming. And he leads by example."
Oak Hill will utilize its usual 4-3 defense, the coach said.
The schedule says — New to the Red Devil slate is Class AAA Winfield, which replaces Class AA Nicholas County.
"Bluefield and Point Pleasant will probably be two tough opponents," said Blankenship. "Of course, we always (have) rivalry games with Woodrow Wilson and Greenbrier East."
"Lewis County will be tough to start the year out, and Musselman (home opener on Sept. 5) is not going to be easy," he said. "I don't see any breaks on there.
"If we can survive the schedule, we have a chance (to make the playoffs again)."
Outlook — The wins and losses will take care of themselves, the coach said.
"The main thing I tell the kids every day, I want to see that they have fun and create memories that will last forever," said Blankenship. "Win or lose, I want them to give great effort and play as hard as they can."