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Football Tab 2018: Hawks must replace firepower

Skyline's Laterrian Barber looks for running room during the third quarter in a game last season. The Hawks have a young and inexperienced team this season. Rich Cooley/Daily file

FRONT ROYAL – Veteran Skyline High School football coach Heath Gilbert may face his biggest challenge since the Hawks very first season in 2007.

The Hawks finished 4-6 last year in the regular season, but qualified for the postseason before losing to cross-town rival Warren County in the opening round of the playoffs.

Despite the final 4-7 record, the Hawks were in most every game and their offense was as formidable as usual, churning out big yardage and plenty of touchdowns.

The attack the past two years was spearheaded by quarterback Ryan Scott, who used his 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound frame to hurt defenses with both his arm and legs.

But Scott graduated, along with most all other components of the Skyline attack from a year ago, leaving Gilbert with the challenge of replacing all that production.

Skyline scored 33 touchdowns last year and of that number, 32 are gone via graduation.

Scott, the Region Offensive Player of the Year last fall, passed for 1,603 yards and 14 touchdowns and also rushed for 466 yards and added eight more scores on the ground.

Leading rusher Quentin Diggs also graduated, taking his 683 yards and four touchdowns with him.

Top receivers Louis Garcia (39 catches, 699 yards, four touchdowns) and Trenton King (26 catches, 308 yards, six touchdowns) have also moved on.

Skyline’s top returning rusher is senior Ty Clingerman, who had one carry for two yards.

No wonder Gilbert says he will count on the most experienced part of the team to help the transition – the Hawks offensive line.

“Many key guys graduated, (so) we are going to lean on our offensive line,” Gilbert said. “We have a strength of linemen coming through our program. We have three senior, two junior and six sophomore linemen that I’m excited about and the freshman class has a few that are very promising as well.”

Gilbert said the key starting linemen for the Hawks this year will be senior Marcel Roy (6’1“, 260), senior Ethan Nowell (6’1”, 185) and sophomore Will Wolf (6’2″, 250).

The Hawks will have several other players contribute along the offensive and defensive lines and one thing that stands out is the size Skyline brings to the field.

Other linemen include junior Jayden Norwood (6’2“, 260), junior Andre Daville (6’4”, 300), senior Anthony Sosa (6′, 240), sophomore Dathen Montoya (6’2“, 300), sophomore Miles Troxell (6’3”, 215), and sophomore Patrick Slate (6’2″, 265).

“I feel good about playing up to nine different offensive lineman,” Gilbert said. “Our defensive linemen are grading well and we will be able to play two strong groups to keep the guys fresh.”

But still, the Hawks will have to find a way to put points on the board.

Senior Chase Tasker (5’9″, 165), the back-up quarterback the past two seasons, will take over behind center this year for the Hawks.

Tasker was just 6-of-15 passing for 67 yards in limited action and rushed nine time for a minus 28 yards.

“Ryan was a special player and replacing him will be difficult because he was such a dual threat,” Gilbert said. “But Chase does have arm talent and good feet.”

Gilbert said he expects players such as senior Caleb Reedy (6′, 185), junior LT Barber (5’11“, 180), and Clingerman (5’10”, 160) to do well.

Clingerman and Barber both excelled in the defensive backfield for the Hawks last year and do offer speed and with a chance to play more offensively, they should produce.

The big threat to become Skyline’s next offensive star falls on the shoulders of Reedy.

The Hawks were counting on Reedy to emerge last year as a special player with his combination and speed, but his season was lost in the first regular season game versus Central when he suffered a broken leg.

Now almost completely healthy, Reedy says he’s ready to be the man for the Hawks.

“I just want to get back on the field and compete hard,” said Reedy, who will line up at wide receiver, but also move to the backfield in the WildHawk set employed by Skyline. “I just want to go out there and out perform for everybody.”

Coach Gilbert believes Reedy can be the “it” player this season for the Hawks.

“Even though we had many skills lost to graduation, we still have talent at those positions,” Gilbert said. “Caleb Reedy is as talented as anyone we will face this year. Caleb also has the arm talent to bring an ariel element to the wild package.”

Clingerman, senior Caleb Dodson (5’4“, 130) and senior Bogdan Ion (5’11”, 175) are the leading candidates to receive the bulk of the carries in the backfield, with Reedy and Barber getting plenty of looks in the various formations the Hawks like to run.

Senior fullback Jacob Grady (5’9“, 185) also brings experience and talent to the backfield along with junior Ethan Gue (6’2”, 215).

Gilbert is also high on receivers, senior Nigel Wood (5’8″, 140) and junior Anthony Domino (5’9, 160).

With a solid rotation of players on the defensive line, senior Ryan Abel (6’2, 190) will lead Hawks linebacking unit but will also flex out to play defensive end as well. Abel will also be the Hawks primary tight end.

Sophomore David Carter (6’1, 175) led the team in tackles in all three games he played in last year will be one of the Hawks primary linebackers this season with help coming from senior Aden Smith (5’11, 179), Grady, junior Hayden Gray (5’10, 170) and sophomore Darrien Santucci (6′, 220).

The defensive backfield should be solid with Reedy, Barber and Clingerman leading the way.

“Our depth has been solid – we have guys that can make plays in both our first and second units,” Gilbert said. “Our special teams will be improved because less guys will have to play 100 percent of our snaps both ways.”

Gilbert said his squad has shown improvement continually through camp and the first scrimmages and he expects that trend to continue.

“Defensively, we showed growth from our intrasquad and first scrimmage,” Gilbert said. “Offensively, we are settling in on assignments and execution and we will improve as we become more comfortable with our new roles. The huge offensive key will be establishing a consistent running game.”

Gilbert said one reason for optimism this season, despite the loss of all that offensive talent, is the number of Hawks who attended the off-season program.

“We were productive, we participated in many 7-on-7 events, including our own,” Gilbert said. “We give out commitment shirts every summer for guys attending at least 23 of 27 sessions, and we gave out 23 shirts and had 73 kids come out for football.”

Gilbert said the playoffs are always a goal for the Hawks, but for now his focus is on the next practice, and the next game on the schedule.

“We have been stressing the importance of our culture and making sure the kids can define it,” Gilbert said. “Our culture is defined by our leadership, relationships, attitude, work ethic, and locker room. At every turn we have been emphasizing the positive and negative behaviors of our players to help mold the culture we want.”