HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — For a program that graduated one of the most highly sought after recruits in state history in Tennessee Volunteer Darnell Wright, the Huntington Highlanders see no reason to recalibrate annual expectations for this fall.

“We have been knocking on the door for sure of a state championship,” said Huntington senior linebacker Brocton Blair. “This year is the year we have to knock down that door. We’ve got a target on our back. Everyone is coming out to beat Huntington High.”

“Don’t try to be Darnell Wright, be Max Wentz. Don’t try to be Ty Wilcoxon, be Diallo Mitchell,” said Huntington head coach Billy Seals. “We have to make sure that all of our guys understand that even though we lost players, the expectations have not changed here.”

“We’re not going to have a Darnell Wright or a Bryce Damous, we’re not going to have those two but we have a couple guys that can be similar to them,” said Huntington senior quarterback Ta’Jahn Blackwell.

The Highlanders have advanced to the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons, making it to at least the quarterfinal round in seven of those years. Several key returners look to keep Huntington among the best in Class AAA. Senior running back Diallo Mitchell rushed for 738 yards and six scores after moving into a starters’ role midseason.

“Diallo has put on about fifteen pounds this offseason,” Seals said. “He is probably pushing about 190 right now. He is becoming a more mature, physical runner.”

Senior Ta’Jahn Blackwell tossed ten touchdown passes and ran for eight more scores in his first season engineering the Huntington offense.

“Anytime you can bring a quarterback back that has a lot of playing time and a lot of experience, that’s a plus on your side,” Seals said.

On defense, the Highlanders welcome back their leading tackler in Brocton Blair. The first team all-state linebacker will also take a greater role on offense but it is on the other side of the ball where he stood out a year ago, racking up 83 tackles.

“He is as good as I have coached,” Seals said. “You want to talk about a great box player. He plays the box very well but he can also run you down on the outside as well. He is a good old-school linebacker.”