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Skyline’s Marion “Budder” Haley runs along the sideline after a pass reception on Oct. 20, 2019, as William Monroe’s Jeremy Savoie homes in to make the tackle. Haley and the Hawks return a strong nucleus of players from the 2019 squad that advanced to the Region 3B semifinals.

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline’s football team has high expectations for this upcoming season.

One of the main reasons for optimism is the offensive line. The Hawks return their starting offensive line, all seniors, with Miles Troxell, Dathen Montoya, Wes Deavers, Pat Slate and Will Wolf. They also have Julian Marcey, Jack Clingerman and Matt Sosa as valuable backups.

“Obviously, we have five seniors on our offensive line,” Wolf said. “Our offensive line has been playing together for a long time. So it definitely helps when you get to offensive practice having that leadership and the years under your belt. It definitely helps with the way practice runs.”

The Hawks will be big up front and Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said that he expects all eight linemen to be used throughout each game.

Gilbert said it’s definitely a good thing to have so much experience and size on the offensive line.

“It’s a luxury because I feel like they can be tough and do their job,” Gilbert said. “Maybe some inexperience at some key positions won’t be as big of a focus because we can cover up, because we’re going to mash people off of the line, hopefully.”

One of the key positions where the Hawks will have some inexperience is at quarterback. Junior Blake Appleton tore his anterior cruciate ligament in November and is out for the season. That leaves sophomore Tyson Funk and junior Ethan Caperton to battle for the position.

Caperton got off to a later start due to playing on Skyline’s boys basketball team, which advanced to the Region 3B final. Gilbert said he felt like Funk was doing a good job in the early practices.

“He’s got good command, he understands what he’s doing,” Gilbert said. “He understands what throwing on rhythm means and how it’s connected to his feet and route depth and defensive backs. He has a good understanding of where he is and where everyone else is and the timing of it all to kind of fit it together. So that’s a big help. So it’s just a matter of him getting more consistent. He just doesn’t have the number of reps that Blake (Appleton) had.”

Appleton threw for 2,084 yards on 148-for-250 passing with 25 touchdowns.

Gilbert said that they will look at both Funk and Caperton and make the best choice for the team.

Gilbert said that senior Matt Leach, junior Judd Schuman and junior Nathan Haskins will see playing time at tight end.

The Hawks return plenty of skill players, led by All-Class 3 state selection senior Marion “Budder” Haley at wide receiver. Haley had 70 receptions for 1,149 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Gilbert said that if Caperton isn’t at quarterback he will be playing at wide receiver. He said that junior Austin Dunlap and Logan Baliey could also factor in the passing game as well as some younger players who were on the boys basketball team this season.

The Hawks have some quality running backs back to lead the run game. It starts with senior fullback Darion Santucci.

Last year, Santucci had 115 carries for 676 yards and six scores.

Gilbert said sophomore Dustin Gue will be the backup fullback. The tailback spot will be led by senior Logan Maiatico, freshman Aidan Vaught, Chris Murphy and senior Jahrel Whiting.

Gilbert said they are seeing really good things from Vaught even though he’s a freshman.

Defensively, some of the same guys on the offensive line will be leading the way on the defensive line. Slate, Sosa, Wolf, Troxell, Leach, Marcey, Schuman and Deavers will all see playing time up front.

Gilbert said that senior Chris Moin, Santucci, Murphy, sophomore Connor Hughes, Whiting and sophomore Zadin Jenkins as well as wrestlers Haskins and Gue will be battling for playing time at linebacker.

Gilbert said they will have plenty of speed in the secondary. Junior Brayden Poe, Caperton, Haley, Maiatico, Bailey, Dunlap and Vaught will see playing time in the defensive backfield.

Senior Doug Cummings is back to do the punting and place kicking. Gilbert said Santucci will be the backup punter with junior Luke Winningham being the backup kicker.

The Hawks went 6-6 last year and fell to Goochland in the Region 3B semifinals. With plenty of experience returning, the team feels good about what they can do this season.

“We got a really good shot to go a long ways this year as long as we’re doing what we got to do,” Wolf said. “Competing every day at practice and playing with your brothers on the field and playing as one instead of as 11 different people. That’s what’s going to be the difference for us this year.”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com