2015 Football: Roy brings veteran presence to youthful Hawks

Skyline's Jay Roy catches the ball during a practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – When asked about the state of Skyline High School’s football team early in fall camp, senior Jay Roy glanced over his shoulder at a group of teammates circled up for a post-practice stretch on the school’s practice field and sighed.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Roy said. “We’ve got a lot of young boys out here.”

Youth and inexperience were expected to be an obstacle for the Hawks in 2015 after losing 19 seniors to graduation. There are obvious holes to fill as Skyline aims to replace its starting quarterback, top three rushers, leading receiver and top six tacklers from a season ago.

That makes Roy’s job all that more important this fall. As one of the few Hawks with varsity-level playing experience, he automatically inherits a veteran leadership role. And that’s fine with him.

“I want to be a leader this year,” he said. “I want people to follow after me. I want to get them right.

“We’ve just got to push them and keep pushing them. People don’t like to run, they don’t like to do the extra work. We try to stay after [practice] a little bit, catch some passes and stuff. You’ve just to do the extra work.”

The 2015 season marks Roy’s fourth as a member of Skyline’s varsity team, and the third year he can expect significant playing time as a starter for the Hawks and head coach Heath Gilbert.

Last season Roy, a receiver in the Hawks’ multiple-I offense, caught 28 passes – a mark good for second on the team – for 254 yards and a pair of touchdowns. As a cornerback on defense, he tallied 17 total tackles and snagged three interceptions.

Roy is the lone returning starter on a defense that featured 10 seniors a season ago, offering an experienced presence on that side of the ball that Gilbert said the Hawks “sorely need.”

“He has a positive attitude about himself, which is good,” Gilbert said. “That’s what you need to have. You need to believe in your own ability. He can tackle, which is a great thing. He’s just not a corner that’s going to go and cover, which he can do, but he’s physical. He’s a physical guy. When we go through our tackling drills out there you hear him pop.”

At 5-foot-8 and nearly 180 pounds, Roy entered Skyline’s camp about 20 pounds heavier than a year ago, an unintentional result of his offseason workouts.

“I was in the weight room a lot,” Roy said. “I didn’t plan to get this big but it just happened.”

Not that Roy is complaining about the extra bulk. Aside from the obvious benefits his added size could bring on the defensive side of the ball, he expects to be able to break more tackles on offense this season, a bonus for a receiver who catches most of his passes underneath the coverage of opposing defenses.

Skyline will be looking for a new deep threat in the passing game with the graduation of Jamal Parker, who averaged nearly 27 yards per catch in 2014, but with speedsters Brandon Wells and Marcus Burke vying for that role, Gilbert expects to continue to use Roy as the Hawks’ underneath threat.

“He’s almost like a running back,” Gilbert said. “He’s got good lateral movements, so getting him the ball quick and letting him so some things works but he did catch some seam routes a couple times for touchdowns [last season]. We’ll put him in situations where he can challenge that but we play him in a position where it’s more underneath.”

Having a reliable receiver in the short passing game will be important for Skyline – at least early on – as senior Dylan Hamman settles into his role as the Hawks’ new starting quarterback. Gilbert said the abilities of Roy and junior Aaron Tasker (26 catches, 268 yards in 2014) to make plays for Hamman will be “crucial” for the Hawks.

“Number one, Jay being the leader is the most important thing,” Gilbert said. “We understand that if we don’t stay together and stay strong and have a good core of leaders that make sure we’re all on the same path that things can go sour fast. So we lean on guys like Jay to make sure that our team stays in the right direction.”

So far, that’s exactly what Roy is trying to do.

“People get along with him really well. And they follow him,” Gilbert said. “If Jay is working hard, other guys are going to work hard. And he knows that and he pushes himself to make sure that’s what this group is doing.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com