RACHEL, W.Va – With a first round victory over Grafton last year, North Marion earned its first state playoff win in two decades before a few crucial second half miscues against Bluefield ended the Huskies’ season.

Now entering his 14th season, head coach Daran Hays has his team focused on taking the next step in the postseason after challenging the elite of Class AA last season.

“Bluefield and Fairmont Senior are the two teams in AA that everybody’s chasing so for us to be able to play Fairmont Senior close, there’s no such thing as consolation prizes obviously. We lost the game. We came up a drive too short and Bluefield kind of similar but you feel like you’re where you’re competing with the top teams,” he said.

While key playmakers on offense may be gone from last year’s team, the Huskies return the core of a standout defense that looks like it has not missed a beat in its transition to 2022.

“Our defense is pretty good, solid. I feel like we’ve been doing pretty good, especially in scrimmages and stuff like that. We’ve done pretty good,” senior Gavin Lemley said.

Right in the heart of that defensive unit is a group of linebackers led by second-team all-state selection Tyler Curry and big hitter Casey Minor. With leaders like that over the middle of the field, things are not looking appealing for North Marion’s opponents between the hashes.

“They’re just physical and any time you’re anchored by a couple guys that are on the all-state team, I think probably the tandem of Minor and Curry at linebacker are as good as any I’ve had here with two guys. They play well off of each other. Minor’s kind of a quick trigger, quick to stick his face in the fire. Curry just reads everything out well,” Hays said.

Perhaps the most crucial piece to replace for the Huskies on both sides of the ball is first-team all-state receiver Tariq Miller who also patrolled the back end of the defense from the free safety position. After moving him all over the field last seaso, Hays has high hopes for what senior Parker Kincell can do in those spots.

“If not the best, he’s top three players I’ve coached here in 14 years so obviously you’re not going to replace him but the thing about Parker that makes them comparable is, he does a lot of the same things Riq does but for him to slide back in the backfield gives you more of an opportunity to get him the ball,” he said.

And when it comes to who will be getting him the ball, a battle waged during fall camp to replace Brody Hall under center brought plenty of surprises for Hays and his coaching staff but as an increasingly important leader on offense, Minor has positioned himself well going into week 1.

“I think Minor’s obviously the frontrunner and everybody knows that on our team. He’s kind of taken the bull by the horns and become the leader of that group,” he said, “He’s throwing the ball a lot better and he gives us more of a Dalton Malcolm-type of physical runner prowess but he’s probably more speedy than Dalton was.”

When you break it down to the basics and take away the X’s and O’s, the Huskies got a look at what its like to be among the best last season and this year’s upperclassmen have a clear vision of what they want next.

“We want to get back to the playoffs but our main goal is a state championship and have fun doing it, enjoy our last year as seniors,” senior Connor Hayes said.

North Marion kicks off the season for area teams on the road, tomorrow night against East Fairmont at East-West Stadium.