MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — John Kelley has seen this movie before.
Most high school football programs, perhaps with the recent exception of four-time defending Class AAA state champion Martinsburg, go through natural ebbs and flows in talent and experience. University enters the 2019 season as a team in transition.
“We are going to be about 80 percent freshmen and sophomores,” Kelley said. “We have a small senior class of about six or seven. I am not going to lie. I try to be optimistic but I have to be realistic.”
“We are not ready for (Class) AAA football. We are going to struggle and struggle mightily. The cupboard is not completely bare but you have to have the people up front and we don’t have it.”
Last fall, the Hawks went 5-5 and were nudged out of the final Class AAA playoff spot when Spring Mills upset Hedgesville on the final day of the regular season. UHS featured three senior Division 1 athletes in Amir Richardson (32 career receiving touchdowns), Evan Parow (Randy Moss Award winner as state’s top receiver) and Logan Holgorsen (27 touchdown passes).
The quarterback competition will likely continue into training camp with four players in the mix. Senior Chris Burke and junior Joseph McBee will be joined by freshmen Jaeden Hammack and Chase Edwards.
“Our biggest concern is who settles in at quarterback. I think they are all pretty good.”
The Hawks will feature a handful of veterans at the skill positions. Senior Jacob Spearen is the top returning receiver. Logan Raber and Clay Maholic are experienced running backs.
“We can already see who and play and who can’t. When you starting hitting, there will be some people who will elevate and some will drop down. We have to put people in spots that we think can play.”
Kelley says the major question marks come on the offensive and defensive lines.
“My offensive line is going to be small. My defensive line is going to be small. We have no depth and people will be playing there that have no business playing at the AAA level yet.”
“I pray everyday somebody moves in here who is about 280 (pounds), but I guess I have sinned too much because they are not here.”
Kelley is hopeful that his young players can develop and take a similar path that his incoming freshmen followed starting in 2014.
“Four years ago we were 2-8. We went through this exact same thing. I played a bunch of young kids with Clay Bailey. The following year they went 8-2. Then they went 10-0 (in 2017).”
“These young guys, as soon as they get a little older and a little stronger we are going to be a force again.”
Entering his 33rd season as University head coach, Kelley is excited to begin the task of building a young group of Hawks.
“People say, ‘are you going to be there?’ I will see it through. I could have gotten out right now and said, ‘I am not going to put this on my record.’ But I like to rebuild. It is part of the process. It is part of what I do.”