Well you had to see this coming. Hopkinsville lost 4 out of 5 of its starting offensive line from last year’s 10-2 team and the fifth elected not to play before the team got out of Summer drills. Hopkinsville’s two most potent offensive weapons, Jalen Johnson and Steven Cager, elected to forego their Senior seasons to focus on basketball, and in Johnson, HHS lost a player who had won back-to-back District MVPs from his QB position. HHS’s star running back, JaTorian Dillard, went down in a scrimmage with an injury which has forfeited his junior season and he was the preseason favorite to win the 2017 District’s Player of the Year Award. HHS has five players upfront offensively who didn’t play a single Varsity snap last season. Hell, one starter upfront, William Long, was in Middle School last year. HHS’s starting QB, Sophomore Jay Bland, lost his freshman season owing to injury and, like the line in front of him, didn’t play a single Varsity snap last season either. Then there is opening on the road at South Warren, the 2015 4A State Champion who has a Notre Dame commit on its Defensive front and a Heisman Trophy Winner’s grandson at QB. After the trip to Bowling Green, the Tigers come home to play Mayfield High School who is coached by the legendary Joe Morris and who, in it’s opener, traveled to Tennessee power, Union City, Tennessee and whipped the Golden Hurricane 41-0. So the question really isn’t how have the Tigers opened 0-2 but, rather, why is anyone surprised? Well, Tiger fans, don’t be so forlorn, here’s what two games have told us.
Jay Bland has shown a lot of mettle and delivers a well thrown and catchable football. He has been holding the ball too long on occasion and his decision making needs to get a little quicker and better as he has thrown the ball into too tight of coverage on occasion resulting in some Defensive Pick-6s, but, overall, Tiger fans have to be encouraged with the play and toughness of its young signal caller. If you can’t see his enormous potential, you should take up another hobby apart from watching prep football. Bland needs to get his offense going earlier in the game. There should be a real focus on early game drives and getting scores on initial possessions to where this young team isn’t always playing from behind. I know HHS scored initially on Mayfield, but that was a defensive Pick-6, and HHS had a golden opportunity to get Mayfield down two scores early and failed, which grossly changed the momentum.
The young offensive line is improving and starting to play faster. By playing faster, I mean they are thinking less and reacting more which indicates the blocking scheme is becoming less daunting and more innate. Yeah, they are all new, but some of the young trench-men are getting better every rep. William Long and Seth Henderson are looking pretty good in pass protection up the middle and in the blitz pick-up. Both are firing off the line and making solid contact in the initial punch but, in the run game, they both need to focus on maintaining contact and bringing their feet and pounding the ground! Both of them have huge upsides if they continue to work on the craft and, as a freshman and sophomore respectively, one knows they are only going to get bigger and stronger as they continue to fill out their frames in HHS’s Strength & Conditioning Program.
I think, ultimately, and especially in the District, the defense is going to be effective. Right now the offense is putting the defense in bad situations and the defense is on the field too long. I feel two sophomores, Connor Lackey and Denarius Barnes have played mighty well and hard and are improving each week. Tavi Sanders, Desandre Green, and Jaime Cooper-Roman have all made big defensive plays too.
HHS needs to develop a RB from somewhere. Coach Clayton’s run game is very timing oriented and depends on backs who hit the hole and explode into the second level of the defense. Not all of the problems running the football can be laid at the feet of the O-line. Sometimes the RBs aren’t hitting the holes confidently and ferociously. Running backs appear hesitant and like they want to pick their way through the line, which has disastrous consequences on the ground game. The backs need to lower their shoulders and get 7 or 8 when a sliver of daylight appears and not perpetually look to bounce outside for a home-run play which we lack the top-end speed at the position to hit anyway.
Hopkinsville’s season really starts right now as the remaining games on the schedule are games in which HHS, if it can minimize its mistakes, can win or lose. Kentucky Prep Gridiron predicts a strong finish out of this young team and, for teams on the remaining schedule who are on the bill in future years, you better get your lumps in on these Tigers now, because with the youth at HHS getting game reps this year, they are going to be mighty tough in years to come.
This is Fletcher Long reporting for Kentucky Prep Gridiron reminding you to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!