KEYSER - With a football schedule as tough as Keyser's this year, it would be a luxury to maybe ease into the schedule by opening up against a lesser opponent. In the ultra-competitive environment that is West Virginia's class AA, however, luxuries aren't often afforded.

By Chapin Jewell
Tribune Correspondent
KEYSER - With a football schedule as tough as Keyser’s this year, it would be a luxury to maybe ease into the schedule by opening up against a lesser opponent. In the ultra-competitive environment that is West Virginia’s class AA, however, luxuries aren’t often afforded.  
Such is the case with Keyser’s season opener, as the Golden Tornado travel to Clarksburg to take on the always talented and tough Robert C. Byrd Eagles.
Just a season ago, Byrd traveled to Keyser and earned a close 20-14 victory over the Black and Gold. This kick-started a season that saw Byrd finish 9-3, defeat Shady Spring 35-15 in the first round of the playoffs, then advance to the state quarterfinals before falling to traditional juggernaut and neighbor Bridgeport 45-7.
Byrd’s three losses in 2018 came at the hands of neighbors and eventual state semi-finalist Bridgeport (twice), and neighbor and eventual state champion Fairmont Senior.  
2018’s winning season for Robert C. Byrd is indicative of what has come to be the norm at the school that opened in Clarksburg in 1995 via the consolidation of Washington Irving and Roosevelt Wilson high schools. Byrd enters the 2019 campaign with an overall record of 171-85, representing a 67 percent winning percentage all-time. This means that the Eagles have won two out of every three games they’ve played on average.
In head to head matchups, Robert C. Byrd holds a 4-2 advantage all-time over Keyser. Byrd won the first three matchups, all of which were playoff games; Keyser, however, has defeated the Eagles in two of the last three contests. Coach Sean Biser has a 2-2 record overall against Byrd.
The Eagles are led by head coach Josh Gorrell, who is beginning his sixth season as Byrd’s head man. Gorrell actually has served two stints as the head coach, first in 2010 and 2011, then again from 2016 to the present. Under Gorrell’s leadership, the Eagles have compiled a 31-24 record overall and have advanced to the playoffs in four of his five seasons.
Byrd believes they have what it takes this year to advance to and be competitive in the playoffs again. It won’t necessarily be an easy path, however, as they must replace the contributions of as many as five key impact players, to include the school’s all-time leading rusher, Ghovan Davidson.
Davidson, however, will be replaced in that role by his cousin, Jeremiah King, an all-state performer as a freshman a year ago.  Last season, King split carries with Davidson in the backfield.  Joining King in the backfield will be Xavier Lopez at quarterback, his third season starting in that role. Makia Payne, Bryson Lucas and John Crites are skilled position players that will assist King and Lopez in making things happen offensively, behind an offensive line that returns three senior starters and a pair of quality juniors.
Defensively, the Eagles will also be led by Jeremiah King, who when not punishing defenses as a running back, doles punishment out on offenses from his safety position. Byrd was admittedly thin at certain positions a year ago to include at linebacker, however, they believe they now have the talent and experience there and at other key positions to improve the defense.
Keyser will counter Byrd’s talent with a roster ripe with returning talent of their own. While the Golden Tornado certainly suffered big losses to graduation, they return, on both sides of the ball, a host of talent-laded experience.
Offensively, four year starter Don Woodworth anchors a group that also includes all-area lineman Dalton Ray. Woodworth and Ray will be on one side with Adam Kephart likely at center and Gabe Ryan and Shawn See (6’ 10’, 350) on the other side, along with Philip Biser at tight end.
This talented and experienced group of linemen will block for a backfield that includes two-year starting and talented quarterback Ryan Shoemaker along with a running back by committee approach including Aaron Lyons, Caden Biser, Drae Allen, Tristin Fox, and a host of other talented backups. The wide receiver position, led by Gavin Root, will also be somewhat of a “by committee” rotation, to include Dameain Emerick and Brendan Pattison.
Defensively, up front, Don Woodworth, Adam Kephart, Drae Allen and Phillip Biser, DJ Cochran and Shawn See, comprise the line, among others.  A talented list of linebackers includes Tristin Fox, Jackson Biser, Aaron Lyons, Caden Biser and Zion Powell among others. The secondary will include all-area returner Ryan Shoemaker at safety along with cornerbacks that include Gavin Root, Logan Proud, along with Dameain Emerick and Brendan Pattison as well.
“Overall, my opinion of Keyser’s pre-season is that it has gone well. The kids have continued to work very hard and we have gotten some good film from our scrimmages to evaluate our guys,” Keyser coach Sean Biser explained.
As for Robert C. Byrd, Keyser’s week one opponent?  “I expect them to test our pass defense but be very balanced. They have an experienced team returning that includes really talented skill players and physical offensive line. They also have solid special teams and a quality defense; they are a very dangerous opponent.  It’s vital to have success in an opening game of this magnitude in order to set the tone for the rest of the season,” Biser stated.
The Keyser versus Robert C. Byrd first-game matchup represents a clash of potential 2019 titans in class AA. Both teams were 9-3 a season ago and lost in the quarterfinals to juggernauts; for Keyser it was state finalist Bluefield; for Byrd it was state semi-finalist Bridgeport.
While each team certainly lost tremendous talent to graduation, each squad enters the 2019 campaign with the thought that the talent and experience is there to carry them towards their ultimate goal, winning a state championship. It’s a week one clash of heavyweights, and with it, there’s no easing into football season.  Come tonight, for both teams, football season is about to hit them right square in the face.