Skyline Football Notebook: Hawks’ D-line taking shape ahead of season opener

Skyline High School football players run through practice drills. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline High School’s football team has returned 16 starters on both sides of the ball entering the season and though seven of those reside on defense, none are back on the defensive line.

The Hawks entered the preseason seeking four brand-new starters in that position group, and head coach Heath Gilbert said following Tuesday’s practice that Skyline’s biggest question mark has been rounding into shape.

“Guys are definitely figuring out what we want them to do,” he said. “It’s just a matter of their recognition, how quickly they can recognize what we need them to do, so they know, if you tell them if this happens this is what you do. They can go through that, it’s just how quickly they can pick that up.”

As Skyline, which is coming off a 2-8 season in 2016, prepares to kick off the 2017 campaign at Central on Friday night, Gilbert said the Hawks’ starters on the defensive line would include four juniors – defensive ends Nathan Abel and Ethan Nowell and interior linemen Marcel Roy and Jacob Grady.

Gilbert added that the Hawks are going to be eight men deep up front this season and named a “1B” group that included junior Cody Lykins, senior Tyler Compton and sophomores Tyler Hugo and Jayden Norwood.

In last week’s scrimmage against Luray, Gilbert said, the Bulldogs were “more physical” than Skyline up front, though Gilbert added that the Hawks entered the scrimmage having prepared to defend a wing-T offense and instead saw an offense that “wasn’t exactly a wing-T.”

“We saw some things on film that we like,” Gilbert said of the scrimmage. “We saw gang tackling, some pride and some intensity to the ball that kind of faded last year. Those were all positive things.”

PLAY MAKER: Skyline’s top two receivers from last season, Luis Garcia and Trenton King, are back for their senior seasons, but that returning experience won’t keep Caleb Reedy from seeing significant action at the position this season.

Gilbert has spoken highly of the 6-foot-1, 171-pound junior since the start of preseason camp and continued to do so on Tuesday.

“He makes plays,” Gilbert said of Reedy, adding that the junior led the Hawks with five receptions in last week’s scrimmage.

“He made some explosive plays (against Luray), one that he got overthrew in the end zone for a touchdown but he went up to get the ball, so you can see the explosiveness in his legs. … And he can fly.”

In Garcia and King, Skyline has a pair of seniors who combined for 67 receptions, 963 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016, but Gilbert said Reedy – who caught 10 passes for 85 yards last year – will be one of the offense’s “core guys” this season.

“It depends on the package. He’s in there,” Gilbert said. “… He plays off the line at slot receiver at times or he’s on the line when we go to 10 personnel.”

Gilbert added that senior Matt Rutherford made some “great” catches, including a touchdown grab down the seam, against Luray, and said juniors Laterrian “L.T.” Barber and Ty Clingerman bring even more depth to the receiving corps.

LEARNING EXPERIENCE: Positives that Gilbert listed from last week’s scrimmage included “some good things” in the running game and simply getting the chance to play against an opponent after the Hawks had their first scrimmage canceled due to weather.

Skyline also did some not-so-good things against Luray, which included a few blown plays, Rutherford said, and a couple personal foul penalties.

“It was tough at times,” Gilbert said. “A couple of our kids lost their composure. That’ll happen sometimes. I’m glad it happened in a scrimmage so we can learn from it and talk about it.

“It got a little chippy, a little dirty,” Gilbert added, noting an incident that involved a Luray player “punching” the helmet of a Skyline defender following a touchdown. “The refs didn’t see very much. It’s the first deal for everybody and our guys did not respond well to it.”

The head coach also said senior quarterback Ryan Scott struggled at times with the execution of plays as he tried to be “too much of a playmaker.”

“He wants to be dynamic and I want him to be dynamic. He can be dynamic, but he also has to do what the read says,” Gilbert said. “Sometimes he wanted to hold onto the ball a little bit too long and make a big play in the passing game or not give it when you should in the read-option stuff.”