By Luke Wiggs, Panhandle News Network Sports

Martinsburg, W.Va– When Craig Hunter took over the Jefferson football program in 2013, the Cougars had won just 3 total games the previous 3 years. Since Hunter has rattled off 6 seasons at .500 or better and has appeared in more playoff games (8) than the 41 years of Cougar football before his arrival (7).

While last year’s 8-4 season was not Hunter’s best record since arriving in Shenandoah Junction, it may have included his signature win, a 34-14 upset of Spring Valley in the first round of the postseason that was filled with difficulty even before the first ball was snapped.

“We had some kids sick that week that made us nervous, they weren’t able to practice, we weren’t sure they could travel.” Hunter said, “As a matter of fact Jahvon Gidney got sick and couldn’t finish the game. When we got down there it had rained all night long, we knew they liked to pound the ball and we try to get outside but the field held up really well for us and that ended up being a big win for us, beating a team that makes deep runs in the playoffs, one of the biggest wins in my tenure.”

The Maroon-clad Cougars take to the field in 2023 looking to make the playoffs for the 3rd consecutive season for just the 2nd time in program history.

The offense will be a mixture of experience and inexperience for Jefferson, highlighted by major talent in their backfield at both quarterback and running back.

Dylan Harich won the QB role for Jefferson halfway through the 2022 season and settled into the job nicely, leading Jefferson to a 6-1 regular season record after claiming the job in week 4.

“He’s the guy going into camp,” Hunter said about Harich, “Jackson Rockwell behind him has looked really good trying to push him but Dylan is the guy.”

Harich figures to be one of the better dual-threat signal callers in the EPAC.

“On our offensive line we return three starters,” Hunter said. “(Jared) Wilburger at tackle, Michael Graham who has played both center and guard, and Wyatt Shively who started for us at the end of the season and playoffs at tackle as well.”

Shively, also a standout of the Cougar basketball team began the season at tight end before making the switch to the line.

“That was a selfless move by Wyatt to move to tackle and he actually ended up loving it, he loved the contact.” Hunter said.

Running back is a major position of intrigue for the Cougars who have to replace 1,000-yard rusher Evan Tewell. Speedy Tayshawn Roper returns and is joined by transfer rusher Rodrigo Delgado who had over 600 yards on the ground for Washington last season.


“Right now, we’re still trying to feel that out,” Hunter said about using his top 2 backs. “Roper has maintained his speed and put on size, with the receivers we lost, both of those guys are very good catchers out of the backfield and out wide and can be resourceful players for us.”

The losses of Spencer Powell and Isaiah Fritts at wideout will certainly be felt but Jefferson looks to feature several different pass catchers this season.

“You can still expect speed out wide.” Hunter said, “With Harich as our starter at QB, Rockwell can flex out there, we also have Brady Roberts who’s come off a great summer, Tony Allen was a great JV kid for us last season, Aiden Miller has also come on strong, we have 7 or 8 kids who have come on strong over the summer.”

Speed will be the name of the game for Jefferson’s wide receiver #1, and perhaps the state’s wide receiver #1, Keyshawn Robinson.

A time of 10.76 seconds saw Robinson claim first place in the state track meet’s 100-meter dash last spring and it’s a talent the division I football commit certainly brings to the gridiron.

“His junior year was a big year for him.” Hunter said about the WVU commit. “He had three offers on the table, we sat down and talked about it, and he decided to go ahead to commit to somewhere he wanted to go and felt comfortable going to.”

Quinton Goins will also feature on offense for the Cougars this season. After trying his luck at quarterback last year, he remade himself into one of the area’s top defensive linemen, but this year may also get work in the passing game.

“With Goins moving over to tight end and being athletic at that position we are going to use him as well.” Coach Hunter said.

Goins leads the line for a talented and versatile Jefferson defense that evolved as last season went on.

“We were young defensively and had trouble at times bringing pressure,” Hunter said. “We made some changes and changed our front just to get more athletes on the field.”

“Shively, Noah Bagent, Wilburger, and Goins can all play up front.” Hunter said, “Graham, and Nathan Mercer have also stepped up and had big summers for us as well.”

Moses Talley and Gidney are big losses at linebacker for Jefferson but one of the state’s top tacklers, Nolan Meehlieb returns to lead that rebuilt unit.

“Steven Cameron can play inside, along with Meehleib, Jacobs, Roberts, Harich wants to play some defense as well,” Hunter said, “Our philosophy is we’ve got to put our best eleven on the field.”


“Losing Evan Tewell defensively, Delgado can slot right in at safety, and we still have (Nycere) Jacobs.” Hunter said in regard to his secondary. “We lose Spencer Powell (at cornerback) but we still have Robinson, Roper, Allen, and Caleb Shelton who can come on for us as well.”

As per usual with EPAC teams, Jefferson’s schedule is one of the toughest in the state.

“Spring Mills is oncoming, Sherando has always been tough for us, then we play a perennial powerhouse in Spring Valley who we were fortunate enough to beat last season, then we have a bye week to get ready for Martinsburg and Hedgesville.” Hunter said, “We’ve made the playoffs the last couple years. The key thing we’re trying to do is not travel. Last year we took 2 trips to Huntington.”

The Cougars open up their first week against Spring Mills which will be our first Panhandle game of the week heard on the Panhandle News Network.