Fall 2020 Preview: Keyser has high expectations again for the year
By Chapin Jewell
KEYSER - Under now departed head coach Sean Biser, the Keyser Golden Tornado qualified for the West Virginia state playoffs in 14 of the last 16 years, to include the last nine years straight. With long-time assistant Derek Stephen now serving as head coach, the same high expectations still apply.
Stephen, along with what were the fellow assistant coaches still on staff, played a key role in that success. In back-to-back years in 2018 and 2019, Keyser finished 9-3 and 10-2 respectively, advancing to the state quarterfinals to unfortunately lose at Bluefield both years.
This season, despite a roster that includes very few returning starters and a host of underclassmen that will be asked to step up and contribute, there’s a feeling of excitement and high expectations surrounding the Black and Gold. Along with those expectations is the hope that the Golden Tornado will quite simply enjoy themselves and have fun in what has been a crazy year thus far.
COVID-19 restrictions, cancellations and such have certainly affected Keyser’s ability to conduct football business as usual. Despite the challenges, coaches and players alike are pushing forward, obeying the rules, and striving to make the most of the opportunity to play.
“It started off in the pre-season when we could only be outside. So we moved weights around, we moved the weight room stuff outside. We were trying to lift weights and get our runs in. In phase two it started to look more normal but we had to stay in smaller pods which meant the team camaraderie we normally get as a team had to happen in smaller groups with their friends and people their age,” Stephen explained.
“Then we got into phase three and had two days of mini-camp before being shut down. That put us further behind, particularly the lifting portion, we’re not as strong as we normally are. As for following the guidelines, if our guys aren’t engaged in actual play they’re masked up. We’re cleaning more, this is the best this locker room has smelled in years. We’re following all the restrictions we can,” Stephen stated.
Gone are neighboring Allegany County, Maryland schools Allegany, Fort Hill and Mountain Ridge from the original schedule, the result of Maryland postponing the fall sports season. Those games were replaced with West Virginia class AA semi-finalist Oak Glen and AAA schools Washington and Jefferson.
“The big one that hurt us was losing Allegany, that’s our oldest rivalry, we’ve played them for over 100 years in a row. I think we’re going to try to get together with Coach Hansel and do a wing-eating or video game contest, something where we can say we didn’t have football this year but we still got together. We had picked Fort Hill back up which is always going to be a good game, along with Mountain Ridge, so we’re missing those games,” Stephen stated.
According to Stephen, “As far as replacing them with West Virginia schools, we picked up some big schools, we didn’t go out and find cupcakes to beat up on. We’ve got Oak Glen, they were semi-finalist last year and return a lot of people. We’ll know where we are next week after going up against them,” Stephen stated. “We picked up Washington and Jefferson who are two of the biggest schools in the state. Jefferson always has athletes, Washington is a new face.”
While the Golden Tornado do have a few key returning starters from that 10-2 team a year ago, overall, Keyser’s personnel is comprised of inexperience. Less experienced players and underclassmen will need to step up alongside the few returning starters for the Black and Gold to have success. If the Weir scrimmage is an indication, they’re off to a good start.
“The key returners, this list will be short, we don’t return a lot this year. On offense, we return Gavin Root, but he’s moving from wide receiver to quarterback. Drae Allen is our lone returning starter in the backfield. Zion Powell started the last few games and played a lot as a sub last year, but he didn’t start fully. He’s going to step into one of the starting roles this year,” Stephen stated.
According to Stephen, “We’re looking at a lot of young guys, a lot of sophomores, that can step up on that line. We have Gabe Ryan, who was a freshman last year and started for us. We’re going to look to him to be that building block, one we can lean on a bit. We’re hoping that seniors Bradley Sommers and Vito Amoruso can step in and help us, they’ve been playing a lot this year and looked pretty good in the scrimmage.”
“The rest is a bunch of sophomores. We’re looking at Caden Youngblood potentially at one of those spots in there, Luke Anderson, Jacob Keating, Jake Bonner, he’s a junior, we’re hoping he can fill into one of those spots. Brayden Keller at tight end, there’s a plethora of other guys that we’re looking at. We haven’t got all of it solidified yet, but we have the pieces, we’re just looking to see where they all fit in right now,” Stephen explained.
Despite the challenges and a roster mixed with very few returning starters in combination with a great deal of inexperience, the goals remain the same.
“Our goals haven’t changed from what they normally are. I think everybody’s goal is a state championship. Is that going to happen every no, but that’s the goal. We want to make the playoffs, we want to go undefeated at home, the simple things that you want to do every year,” Stephen stated.
According to Stephen, “But honestly, I’m just glad we get to go out and play, that’s the biggest plus in my book. As long as our kids are having fun and playing football and playing the way that Keyser is supposed to, the rest of it will take care of itself.”