CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- TEN BURNING questions as we head into the start of high school football practice in the Kanawha Valley a week from today:
1. Can Hurricane play some shutdown defense to go along with its dynamic offense? The Redskins return quarterback Austin Hensley for his third year as a starter, and with 3,310 career passing yards and 31 touchdown tosses, he won't disappoint. However, the Skins need to improve a defense that allowed 321 yards per game and saw eight of 11 opponents tally 20 or more points.
2. Will South Charleston have a home of its own sometime this season? The Black Eagles are trying to get the football facility next to their high school ready to use for games instead of playing at Oakes Field. As of late last week, that matter was still "in limbo,'' according to first-year SC coach Donnie Mays. The new turf itself is coming along well, but items still to be done include electrical work, concession stands, restrooms, ticket booths and paving a parking lot.
3. At George Washington, how will transfers such as quarterback Jon Alexander (South Charleston, Hargrave Military) and running back Draven Riffe (Scott, Van) mesh with returning players such as all-state linebacker (and fullback) Zach Malone and receivers Jacob Jackson and Austin Giacomo?
4. Will Capital's young guns "grow up'' even more this season and take the next step? Last year, the explosive Cougars counted among their top playmakers a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors, and had only five seniors on the entire roster. That worked until they ran into senior-dominated Musselman in the Class AAA playoffs and lost 42-23.
5. Can Herbert Hoover find a place for two quarterbacks on the field? The Huskies return two signal callers with starting experience in Brenden Holbrook and Tyler Americo. Holbrook started the opener last year, went 3 of 3 passing and ran for 98 yards and a TD, but was lost with a leg injury until the final game. In his stead, Americo threw for 575 yards and three TDs and ran for 272 yards and two scores.
6. How can Buffalo make up for the absence of graduated quarterback Levi Jordan, who started the team's last 36 games, and the loss of perhaps its most explosive returnee, running back Laythen Good, who is out with a torn ACL in his right knee? The Bison had planned to lean on the rushing of Good and Jordan Tucker, who himself missed the first four games last year following a preseason injury.
7. Will a fresh start help Riverside return to glory? For the first time since the school opened in 1999, neither a DuPont nor East Bank veteran coach will be guiding the Warriors. Steven Freeman, 26, a former assistant at Huntington, takes over a program that hasn't been to the Class AAA playoffs since 2007. Previously, Riverside was coached for eight seasons by Dick Whitman (181 career wins in 24 seasons), who took DuPont to a pair of AAA crowns and for six years by Ralph Hensley (176 wins in 26 seasons), who guided East Bank to four AA state titles.
8. Can Poca get back to the playoffs for just the second time since 2006? The Dots figured to have a returning third-year quarterback in versatile Jake Payne, who in the past two seasons has run for 799 yards and 14 TDs and thrown for 1,843 yards and 13 scores, but he's been bothered by a back injury suffered at the end of baseball season. Justin Stewart was plugged in under center for June's three-week practice period.
9. With a spread offense installed by first-year coach Steve Stoffel Jr., St. Albans proved it could score last year, ringing up nearly 100 more points than it did the previous season. However, all it got the Red Dragons was the same 2-8 record it finished with in 2011. The question is: Can SA keep opponents from scoring at an even higher rate? The Dragons permitted 34 or more points seven times in 10 games and opponents averaged 37.1.
10. Can Toby Show continue his progression as quarterback at Winfield? Last year, Show completed 134 of 278 passes for 1,507 yards and 14 TDs with 17 interceptions - a marked improvement from his sophomore season, in which he split time under center but managed to throw for only 224 yards and one score. He'll need to move it through the air because last year's nearly 1,300-yard rusher, Seth Lewis, is gone. Show's top target does return in Chris Turner (48 catches, 656 yards, six TDs).
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.