(Statistical Information Courtesy of NWPASports.com archives)
HICKORY HORNETS 2022 FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEW
Head Coach: Bill Dungee, 4th season (22-9)
Last Year: 7-4 overall, advanced to District 10 Class 3A semifinals
The Hickory High School football team has plenty of questions entering the 2022 season. But the Hornets, head coach Bill Dungee and the coaching staff feel that the right answers to those questions are located in the Hornets' locker room.
Hickory welcomes back one of District 10's most prolific passers, the team's leading rusher, the fastest player in Mercer County, and a two-year letterwinner at kicker, along with several other seasoned veterans.
However, graduation claimed the bulk of the offensive line and the defense's front seven. Senior Peyton Lawrence returns as the lone starter on the lines, at offensive tackle and defensive end.
According to Dungee, the development of the offensive and defensive lines will play a major role in Hickory's fortunes this year.
"The offensive line is a question mark on offense, with us replacing four seniors," Dungee said. "We could start four or five seniors this year but only has started consistently in the past. That's the unknown. It doesn't matter how much skill we have, in this region, you have to be able to get it done in the region.
"If our defensive line is able to control gaps and let our linebackers run free, I think we'll be right there competing for a championship," Dungee continued. "If not, it will be a struggle."
Lawrence and senior co-captain Ethan Hamelly are the leading contenders at offensive tackle. Seniors Ryan Coxe, Luke Klingensmith, Zac Lanschak and Gavin Rogers are battling for the interior spots at guard and center, along with sophomore Ben Walls and freshman Luke Lewis.
"We'd like to have seven guys ready to go," Dungee said.
The offensive line may lack overall experience but the same cannot be said for senior quarterback Logan Woods. Woods enters his second year as Hickory's starting quarterback after starting defensively at outside linebacker as a sophomore in 2020.
Last year, Woods threw for a county-best 2,270 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also completed 60.7 percent of his passes despite an ankle injury that limited his mobility for much of the 2021 campaign.
"He's been a quarterback in the system for four years and he's seen how the offense progresses," Dungee said. "I think the thing that's going to surprise people is how much he can run, now that he's healthy. That will add another dynamic option to our offense. We didn't run the quarterback much at all last year.
"Our offense obviously starts with him and it's great to have him back. He believes that he can be even better than he was last year."
Junior co-captain Sean Kennedy led Hickory with 574 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in 2021. "He's one of our hardest workers and he plays with so much joy," Dungee said of his starting halfback. "He's a joy to coach."
Senior Daymar Trawick and versatile senior co-captain Ty Holland are also expected to receive carries. Holland ran for two touchdowns while Trawick saw reserve action behind Kennedy.
"We have some beef back there, where we can run it downhill or spread it out," Dungee said of his running backs. "That's exciting from an offensive standpoint. All of them ran track, trying to get faster. Their dedication is what makes me proud and I can't wait to see what they can accomplish because of that."
Hickory must replace tight end Jackson Pryts and wide receiver Ramarion Whitehead, who combined for 90 catches, 1,443 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
However, junior All-Region honoree Keenan Scullin returns after catching 35 passes for 618 yards and five scores in 2021. He also ran for 147 yards on only seven carries. Scullin won the District 10 Class AA title in the 100-meter dash last spring with a time of 11.07 seconds.
"Even with (Whitehead) there, he was still probably our most explosive athlete," Dungee said. "We can line him up in the backfield, at 'X' (split end), 'Z' (flanker) or in the slot. He's really dynamic. He's probably the fastest kid in Mercer County."
Senior Nash Porada and junior Timmy Krivosh also return at wide receiver. Porada grabbed 14 passes last year and Krivosh caught 10.
Holland and backup quarterback Parker Hilliard will play tight end. "We like to use some two tight end sets. It's a wrinkle that a lot of teams don't see," Dungee said.
Veteran assistant coach Matt Schneider has taken over as Hickory's defensive coordinator. The Hornets will use a 3-4 alignment, which Dungee described as "some deviation from what we've done, but not a lot in terms of our coverages."
Lawrence and co-captain Hamelly will be the defensive ends. Klingensmith, Lewis and Rogers are all batting at nose tackle. "We're going to rotate guys," Dungee said. "We're hoping to have a rotation of six on the defensive line.
Lanschak and Trawick have the inside track to start at outside linebacker. All-Region pick Holland and Kennedy return at inside linebacker. "It starts with those two," Dungee said. "They're two captains and the two leaders of the defense."
Porada returns at cornerback while sophomore Zander Telesz looks to hold down the other cornerback spot. Krivosh and All-Region honoree Scullin will be the safeties. Juniors Will Acrie and Luke Nevil are also expected to battle for time in the defensive backfield.
Junior kicker Lukas Jones returns for his third season as Hickory's kicker. He went 4 of 5 on field goals last season, including a season-long of 41 yards. He also converted 39 of 40 extra points, netting All-Region honors. Krivosh will hold.
Hickory will compete in Region 3, squaring off with Class 3A rivals Grove City, Sharon and Slippery Rock, as well as Class 2A powers Farrell, Greenville, Sharpsville and Wilmington.
"We need to have depth. It's a meat grinder, starting from Week Three on," Dungee said. "It's phenomenal for the fans and great for the Valley. But the physicality of the region is going to be tough, week in and week out. You're playing well-coached teams from great communities every week. It might come down to who stays healthiest to win the region."