University is still bitter about the way 2016 ended.
The Hawks lost back-to-back games to finish 8-3, surrendering a halftime lead to rival Morgantown before losing to Hurricane in the playoffs, and bowing out in the first round as the No. 5 seed.
Ask anyone in red and gold, and they’ll tell you, this season won’t end the same way.
“Ever since our season ended, we’ve just been trying to get time in with each other and trying to go over things, and trying to get things fixed, hitting the weight room 10-times harder than we have,” said senior running back Robert Sanders.
Added junior wide receiver Amir Richardson: “The biggest thing that hurt us about those two games was execution. Coming into this year, we very much emphasized executing on both sides of the ball.”
But even last season, 31st year head coach John Kelley thought the Hawks were a year early. During the offseason, he said his team bonded, matured and improved.
That maturity could be huge for the Hawks, who return an experienced roster loaded with talent. On offense, senior quarterback Clay Bailey will have plenty of options in an eight-man receiving corps, which includes Richardson, while Robert Sanders will replace Isaiah Utt at tailback, carrying the bulk of the load in the run game.
“This is the most skill I’ve ever had here as far as receivers, quarterbacks, running backs, together,” said Kelley. “We have all the ingredients to have a good team.”
Added Bailey: “My team’s been playing well lately, and we’ve been working hard together, and the more we practice, the more I’m becoming confident with their play and how they’re going to play in the games.”
Returning players admit focusing in big games was an issue for them last fall. That’s something the Hawks have fixed, and they want to prove it this Friday against John Marshall.
“Everything we do is 14. Fourteen games to try to get to Wheeling,” said Richardson. “We’re going to come into every game focused, we’re going to give it everything we got, and we’re trying to be in Wheeling at the end of the year.”
The Hawks and Monarchs clash in Morgantown begins at 7:30 p.m.