SHINNSTON, W.Va – An 8-2 finish in 2021 was good enough to get the Lincoln Cougars into the playoffs but a narrow loss against Frankfort brought an end to another successful season in Shinnston.

With 11 seniors returning from last year’s team and a large group of juniors as well, Lincoln is ready to make a deeper playoff push this year.

Head coach Rob Hawkins is set to close out a full decade in charge of the Cougars and, with the experience returning, has confidence in this team so far.

“Experience is the biggest thing. We have a big senior class, big junior class.” he said, “They’ve all played a lot of snaps in their time here and we feel like right now our line, we’re pretty experienced up front so we feel like that’s going to be a strong suit of both our offense and our defense and having an experienced backfield back.”

The growth from juniors to seniors for those returners will be a crucial factor when it comes to turning the corner in the postseason for Lincoln.

Kobi O’Dell returns on the offensive line and he says this group will have to grow up if they want to improve on last season.

“We’ve got to step up, the senior class. Last year, the games we lost, we definitely could’ve played with them teams but we definitely wasn’t mature enough yet,” he said.

If you can point to one constant over the last couple of years for the Cougars, it is the performance out of the backfield by the two-headed rushing attack of Antwan Hilliard and Levi Moore.

The head ball coach is certainly happy to have them back.

“Just to have them, they understand the offense. They know what’s going on,” Hawkins said, “Both of them are making an attempt to be better leaders which, when you lose some senior leaders you need someone to step up and I think they know this is their last ride.”

As a major contributor for the last two years, Moore has seen a lot of snaps in his time in a Lincoln uniform and so far this fall, he’s starting to see his teammates grow up, just like O’Dell said they needed to.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of leadership, especially for the first week, week and a half. I’ve seen a lot of hard work too. Everyone’s putting their time in and working hard,” he said.

His backfield mate Hilliard keeps it pretty simple when summing up what it will take for this team to take the next step in the playoffs: just keep working harder.

“We just got to work harder. Can’t slack in practice. We got to work harder in the weight room. We got to get back in the weight room a little bit more,” he said, “Come out here everyday. Finish our reps. No dropped passes. If you drop a pass, do ten pushups. If you ain’t going to catch a ball, at least be strong but we just got to finish.”

Lincoln kicks off the 2022 season on the road in Sutton, taking on Braxton County.