By Luke Wiggs
MARTINSBURG, W.Va – The Jefferson Cougars are coming off their second most successful season in program history. Winning 10 games for just the second time in school history, the 10-2 Cougars lost in the second round of the playoffs to Bridgeport 74-49.
“We had a lot of kids that had seen success the previous year and tasted a little bit of it, and wanted it.” 10th-year head coach Craig Hunter said. “You saw more of it during the offseason coming into this past year.”
This year, Jefferson looks to continue their dominance but will have to replace key pieces. Namely, last year’s quarterback Sam Roberts. Roberts threw for close to 3,000 yards and 35 touchdowns last year before committing to division 2 powerhouse Shepherd.
“We’re still in a hot and heavy quarterback competition,” Hunter said. Junior Quinton Goin, sophomore Dylan Harich, and Senior Moses Talley all are proving to be solid choices to replace slingin’ Sammy.
The back field yields a bit more consistency for Jefferson, with last year’s leading rusher returning. Evan Tewell accumulated 1,095 rushing yards and 14 rushing scores during last year’s campaign.
“He’s (Tewell) is definitely going to be our work horse this year but we have a kid who was a freshman last year who’s going to help with some of that because we feel Evan got worn down last year with as many carries as he took.” Hunter said. “So Tay’Shaun Roper is going to help relieve him. They’re similar runners, though Tay’Shaun may have a bit more break away speed so hopefully, it will be a two-headed monster this year.”
At wideout, the Cougars return 4 of their top 6 receivers from a season ago including Isaiah Fritz, and may be adding another top receiver to the fold with last year’s kicker Oren Humphreys expected to step into a more offensive role.
“He kicked for us last year mainly.” Coach Hunter said. “But he says he wants to move this year, maybe some receiver and play some defense.”
As a whole the Cougars feel as though their arsenal of offensive weapons rival the best in class AAA.
“We have a lot of athletic weapons out there, we just need to get the ball to them.” Hunter said. “Whether we hand it off or throw it to them and just letting them get into space and work.”
Along the line is where Jefferson saw the most departure losing 4 of last year’s starters. However, starter Jared Wilberger and top backup Richard Martinez return along with a host of depth behind them.
“We have a couple of guys waiting in the wings that last season weren’t ready yet. So hopefully they fill into those spots and we don’t have any hiccups.” Hunter said. “Right now it looks like we’re going to be pretty strong up front.”
Defensively, Jefferson lost 3 of their top 4 tacklers. Nolan Meehlieb returns after leading the Cougars with 110 tackles a season ago, but it will be new faces around him
“We feel like we have kids that can step up and step into those roles.” Hunter said. “We’re still looking for the inside backer but we have kids that can step up.”
All 5 of Jefferson’s non-conference games this season will be against out-of-state opponents in North and South Hagerstown in Maryland, along with James Woods, Sherando, and Milbrook, all of Virginia.