WEST JEFFERSON — With only seven seniors on this year’s varsity football team, the Ashe County Huskies will be relying on some key underclassmen to make this season a success.
One of those returning seniors is standout wide receiver Grant Thompson. As a junior, Thompson led the Huskies in receptions (64) and receiving yards (1,099).
“He (Grant) is a two-time all-conference wide receiver. He’s really a matchup problem for a lot of folks,” said head coach Brian Hampton.
At quarterback this season will be junior Luke Hudler. He has spent the previous two years as the junior varsity QB and will have some big shoes to fill replacing Colin Ellis, who compiled 4,676 yards and 51 touchdowns.
For Coach Hampton though, he doesn’t see it as Hudler trying to replace anyone.
“Luke is looking really good and doing what we need him to. He has worked hard, had a good camp and we’re expecting good things from him. We don’t want Luke to step in and be Connor (Bowers) or Colin, we want him to step in and be the best Luke Hudler that he can be,” he said.
At wide receiver, Hudler will have several other weapons to work with in the Air Raid offense. Hampton said Branson Shepherd has been doing a great job in camp as well as Corbin Coldiron, Kai Christoferson and Jake Richardson.
“Jake will play most of his time on defense but he will factor in as a hybrid type guy out of the backfield, like a fullback,” Hampton said.
The running back position has been a good competition during fall camp as well with Alex Lacroix and Boen Crouse seeing the bulk of the carries and pass catching opportunities out of the backfield.
Up front, Coach Hampton has been pleased with what he’s seen from the offensive line.
“I think the strength of our offense could be the offensive line. We played a lot of sophomores up last year due to a lack of depth, we just had to pull guys up out of necessity,” Hampton said. “Jesse Kemp, Tyler Harmon, Hunter Knight and Ben Graybeal have all led that group working extremely hard in the offseason. Logan Richardson and Tanner Kilby are a couple other guys that have worked extremely hard too.”
Defensively, there were some problems on that side of the ball last year. So far during these early practices, Hampton is seeing some much-needed defensive improvement.
“We have really emphasized defense this year for obvious reasons. Last year we were not very good defensively. I think we will be a lot better this year. We’re striving to get guys to play together and take care of the fundamental things like running to the football. That’s one of the things we did not do very well last year was have everyone attacking the ball,” Hampton said.
The defensive line and linebacker spots have looked much better already.
“Right now at linebacker we’re pretty excited. Noah Vannoy is a great leader, I’m not sure if we have a harder worker in the whole program than Noah. Zach Bare has been doing some great things in camp. Michael Miller and Caleb Harless have been doing some great thing and working hard. They’re young, but they got experience last year too,” said Hampton.
Along the defensive line, Logan Richardson has made an early statement with his great play so far. Jake Richardson, Tanner Kilby and Ben Graybeal will all be key bodies at the point of attack.
If there is still an area of need on the defense, it is most likely in the secondary.
“We do have some depth, but we are very young in the secondary, and that is somewhat of a concern, but those guys have proven to be very coachable and seem to catch on to what we are trying to do,” Hampton said.
“Offensively we’ll be just fine. Defensively we have got to improve on what we’ve done the last couple of years and that could be a difference in the numbers of games we win,” he added.
Youth is also served on the coaching staff after the retirements of former assistant coaches Keith Phillips and Tom Roberts. Recent additions on the coaching staff include former Alleghany High School graduate Parker Thomas, who will be working with the offensive line. Former Ashe County quarterback Connor Bowers will also be helping out this year as time allows him to with his class schedule at Appalachian State. The team will also have Donnie Parker, who is a volunteer coach that previously spent time coaching at Garner High School. He will spend most of his time coaching the running backs.
Defensively, Hampton will take more control on that side of the ball letting offensive coordinator Drew Piscopo handle the duties when Ashe has possession. Hampton will have veteran Husky coaches Mike Tasso and Don Mahle helping out with the defense.
Overall, Coach Hampton is excited to see what this year’s team can do on the field.
“This has been a fun group to be around. They have really worked very hard and they have worked together,” he said. “They’re run to be with on the practice field. We have a very talented freshman class coming in, and our seven seniors that have stuck with us, from top to bottom, it’s really a great group of young men.”
2017 Husky Football schedule (All varsity games start at 7:30 p.m.)
JV/Varsity Scrimmages: August 9 @ Surry Central (6 p.m.), August 11 Home vs East Surry, Lincolnton, Watauga (6 p.m.)
Aug. 18 @ Avery
Aug. 25 vs. Watauga
Sept. 1 vs. Hibriten (Endowment Game)
Sept. 8 @ West Caldwell
Sept. 15 Open
Sept. 22 * vs. Alleghany (Homecoming)
Sept. 29 * @ Elkin
Oct. 6 * vs. North Wilkes
Oct. 13 * @ Wilkes Central
Oct. 20 * vs. East Wilkes
Oct. 27 * vs. West Wilkes (Senior Night)
Nov. 3 * @ Starmount
* Denotes Mountain Valley Conference games
2017 JV Football schedule
Aug. 17 vs. Avery 7 p.m.
Aug. 24 @ Watauga 6:30 p.m.
Aug. 31 Open
Sept. 7 vs. West Caldwell 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 Open
Sept. 21 @ Alleghany 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 vs. Elkin 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 @ North Wilkes 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 vs. Wilkes Central 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 @ East Wilkes 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 @ West Wilkes 7 p.m.
Nov. 2 vs. Starmount 7 p.m.
Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-489-3062.