There’s a youth movement going on at Western Hills.
The Wolverines have 22 players who are sophomores and freshmen on their 33-player roster. There is just one junior and 10 seniors.
“We had 10 or 11 seniors last year,” WHHS coach Don Miller said. “With our seniors and juniors we had a decent little core. This year we expect our sophomores to step up.
“I think the biggest thing is for them to get that Friday night experience,” he said. “It’s a little different playing a freshman or JV game and coming out on Friday to play a varsity game.”
Western Hills opens its season at home Friday night against Woodford County.
The Wolverines went 5-6 last year, finishing third in their district and losing in the first round of the playoffs, 19-13 at Russell.
Among those gone from that team are starting quarterback Austin Smith, leading rusher Jordan Taylor, tight end/defensive end and kicker Logan Curry, lineman Gabe Loman and Christian Wilkins, a four-year starter on the line.
Smith, who split time at quarterback with Arie Slone his junior year, was at the helm of the Wolverines’ offense last season when he passed for 1,158 yards and seven touchdowns.
Moving into the starting quarterback role will be sophomore Nick Young.
“He’s 6-1, 205 pounds,” Miller said. “He’s got good height and can see in the pocket. The biggest thing for him is getting that pressure on Friday night.
“He’s played in 7-on-7 games, but it’s a lot different when there’s six guys in the box coming after you.”
Freshman Daniel Childress will be Young’s backup.
Sophomore Nick Lockett is the leading returning rusher and scorer for the Wolverines. He ran for 461 yards last year and scored five touchdowns. This summer he attended the Under 17 Team USA Football International Development Week in Austin, Texas.
“He got a lot of good experience there,” Miller said. “The biggest thing for him and most of our players is they’ll play on both sides of the ball due to numbers and on special teams.
“We’ll have to be in really good shape to make sure we make it all the way through the fourth quarter.”
Senior Casey McLean is expected to play a key role in Western Hills’ offense.
“Casey has been in the mix his sophomore and junior years,” Miller said, “and we expect big things out of him at fullback.
“In the red zone he’ll dot the ‘i’ and play halfback also.”
The Wolverines should have decent speed this year, and Miller is satisfied with his team’s size.
“We don’t have exceptionally large guys,” Miller said, “but I’d rather have the type of guys who are tall and lanky, in the 210-225 range who can run.”
Senior Trey Drury will start at center, where Wilkins had started for the last four years. Senior Zach Hart and junior Jared Banta will start as tackles on the offensive line, and senior Darreck Rogers and sophomore Will Criscillis will start at guard.
Most of these same players will be starting on the defensive line, and Hart and McLean will be the Wolverines’ inside linebackers.
The two teams that finished ahead of WHHS in district play last year – champion Garrard County and runner-up Bourbon County – both have some key players returning.
“Garrard’s quarterback will be a senior, and they’re very strong and physical up front,” Miller said. “Bourbon County has everyone coming back, including District Player of the Year Kentayvous Hopkins.”
For the Wolverines, Miller sees one area where his team is particularly strong.’
“I think overall it’s our chemistry,” he said. “They’ve worked very hard, and they work well with each other. Hopefully that’ll carry over onto the field on Friday nights.”