WOODSTOCK — For the past three football seasons, Kelan Hoover was looking up to fellow quarterback Zeb Dyer on Central’s depth chart. Hoover, now a senior, is getting his shot as the starting signal-caller for the Falcons’ offense in 2019.
Dyer, a three-year starting QB at Central, was part of a large graduation exodus that left the Falcons thin on players with significant varsity experience after the 2018 season. Hoover is one of those players who will step into featured roles for the first time this fall, but all indications from head coach Mike Yew are that Hoover is up to the task.
“He’s progressed well,” Yew said of Hoover on Wednesday evening. “He had a good summer, so the progression right now is not slowing him down at all. He knows all the reads. We talked about them over the summer in 7-on-7. He’s embraced that and done well with that, so he’s done a good job stepping in and filling the void.”
Hoover’s varsity action at quarterback to this point is limited. As the Falcons’ backup QB in 2018, he completed 5 of 10 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown, seeing playing time primarily in late-game, blow-out situations.
But Hoover does feel like he gleaned plenty of knowledge from Dyer, who in three seasons passed for 3,683 yards and 49 touchdowns.
“Watching Zeb for the first three years has kind of helped me realize, I mean he was a great quarterback and I just learned from him and what to do, and I feel like I’m just gonna progress as the year goes on,” Hoover said. “I’m ready.”
Knowing that he would be stepping into the most scrutinized position on the football field this season, Hoover said it altered the way he approached the offseason as his senior year approached.
“I think when we did 7-on-7 down here and at (California University of Pennsylvania), I kind of really took it to another level and tried to be as good as I could be and perfect everything,” Hoover said, adding that he’s ready to assume the leadership responsibilities that come with playing quarterback.
As far as arm talent, Yew said the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Hoover — who is also a pitcher on Central’s baseball team — has plenty of it to lead a Central offense that in 2017 and 2018 averaged 48.5 and 35.5 points per game but must reload at every position this season.
“His arm is big-time,” Yew said. “He’s got a good arm. The coach at Cal U was very impressed with him as well, for a first-time starter. It’s just unfortunate that he played behind Zeb for three years.”
Yew said earlier this week that while the Falcons did throw passes to six different players — four of them receivers — in their first scrimmages of the preseason against Waynesboro and Riverheads last weekend, they didn’t showcase much of their spread passing game.
Central could open up that part of its game a bit more in Friday’s scrimmage at home against Madison County, though Yew said Wednesday the Falcons’ air attack would be limited with two of their top four receivers — senior Landon Shockey and junior Brevin Scott — expected to miss the scrimmage with lingering injuries suffered last weekend.
FALLING INTO PLACE: The offensive line, which lost three starters to graduation, remains an area that Central is still trying to sort out ahead of its opener at Luray next week, though Yew said on Wednesday that “a lot of the pieces are starting to fall together.”
The left side of the line was already established early in the preseason, where seniors Camden Zirk, a 6-foot-1, 224-pound left guard who was second-team All-Region 2B in 2018, and Dylan Mullins, 5-11, 255-pound left tackle, bring a veteran presence after starting in 2018.
Yew added that Central’s coaches have moved senior Billy Ball, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound running back, to offensive guard out of necessity for the time being and that junior Clifton Grant (6-2, 230), who returned to football after not playing last season, has performed well at right tackle.
Sophomore Travis Payne (5-9, 215) started last weekend’s scrimmages at center, Yew said. Yew added that senior Jacob Halterman (6-2, 210), another player who returned to the football program after not playing in 2018, would start at center on Friday, which will allow the coaching staff to evaluate both players and see which is best suited for that spot.
“Compared to last week’s scrimmage, our offensive line has come a long way, just kind of going through the teachings and everything,” Zirk said. “Me and Dylan being there to kind of help these guys through it, I think that’s helping because we’re all kind of coming together as a team. I think our offensive line is gonna be continuing to get stronger.”
Yew said after last weekend’s scrimmages that many of the mistakes on the offensive side were fixable ones, such as players going to the wrong spot on a block, not blocking down or blocking the wrong linebacker.
“We’ve taken a lot of time to slow down and just kind of run through our plays and run through our steps, because they’re younger guys, so it’s kind of harder to understand unless you see it and do it,” Zirk said of addressing those mistakes this week, adding that he and Mullins have taken it upon themselves to help their more inexperienced teammates along.
“It’s been more of like a teaching kind of stance with it,” Zirk said of that leadership. “When our guys don’t know what they’re doing, we have to step up and be like ‘hey, this is it.’ A lot of times on the offensive line you don’t get a whole lot of direction. You have to work with each other, so that’s what we’ve been trying to bring as well as we can this whole week. Throughout the season we’re gonna try to do that.”
FINAL TUNE-UP: Friday’s scrimmage against Madison County, scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start in Woodstock, presents the Falcons with one more chance to sharpen up before next week’s season opener. Yew said cutting back on the mental mistakes is Central’s highest priority.
In addition to the fixing the mistakes on blocking assignments that prevailed last weekend, Yew said the Falcons need to work defensively on “squeezing things a little bit” and spilling plays to the outside.
“Last week we got after it pretty good but we made a lot of mental mistakes,” Yew said. “This week, if we can get after it well and just cut down the mental mistakes, go to the right places, do the right things, then I’ll be tickled to death going down to Luray.”