CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Of the nine games involving Kanawha Valley schools on opening weekend, just one matches playoff teams from a year ago - Huntington at Hurricane.
Both teams sport high hopes when they kick off at 7:30 tonight at Redskin Stadium. The Highlanders return six starters on offense and eight on defense, while Hurricane brings back several key skill-position players, including third-year starting quarterback Austin Hensley.
The teams last played in 2010, with Hurricane taking a 53-28 victory.
Paden Christian, who ran for 803 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the ground game last season, is back to provide a spark for Huntington, which starts off its season with five games in the first six weeks against 2012 Class AAA playoff teams.
Hensley threw for 2,200 yards and 21 TDs last year, and several of his targets return. One who doesn't is Koi Turner, who led the squad with 55 catches last year, but has since moved to the Columbus, Ohio, area.
In his absence, the Skins hope to get some mileage out of junior receiver Brandon Ford, who sat out last year.
"He's faster than Koi ever dreamed to be,'' said Hurricane coach Jeremy Taylor. "He's just trying to get back into football after not playing last year. He was a tailback in middle school and played here his freshman year, then didn't come out at all. He said he missed it, and he's stepped right in there.''
"Our main concern right now,'' said Poca coach Bob Lemley, "is our offensive line and our defensive line. We need to make sure they are together and blocking who they're supposed to block and making tackles and defensive stands.
"We've got some kids who can run, but we've got eight, nine kids who didn't play last year, so they don't have the experience of being in the battle.''
Nitro's quarterback is senior Tyler Barton, who didn't play football the past two years but has started in baseball and basketball.
The Red Dragons bring back a lot of familiar faces in the passing game, including quarterback Noah Reed, who threw for 1,248 yards and 10 TDs in seven starts. His top three receivers all return in Cole Medley (28 catches, 336 yards, one TD), Dakota Kelly (17 catches, 334 yards, two TDs) and Jacob Grigsby (14 catches, 278 yards, two TDs).
"We've got some skill kids back,'' said SA coach Steve Stoffel Jr., "and that gives us some hopes and aspirations. These are kids we think are athletes who can give us some reps and some yards. It's exciting to see what we can do against people not in a controlled setting.
"We've got a good number of kids out, about 70, and we're looking to find 20 to 25 who can play for us and help us win some games until we get down the road later in the year.''