Skyline hopes to shake off down season

After a three-year run in the postseason, the Skyline Hawks crashed to a 2-8 season last year under veteran coach Heath Gilbert.

Inexperience and a plethora of injuries doomed the Hawks last year.

A more balanced schedule and nine returning offensive starters, along with seven experienced defensive starters, has the Hawks hopeful that the 2017 team will turn things around and start a new streak of playoff appearances.

“We have team goals and making the playoffs is one of them,” Gilbert said. “Due to the change in our schedule, we will get to play many teams in our region. If we fare well in district play, and against the 3A schools in the Northwestern District, we will be playoff bound.”

Skyline will no longer be playing 4A schools Millbrook and powerhouse teams Sherando and John Champe.

Still, the Hawks will have to show plenty of improvement, especially on defense and the turnover department to make a run at the postseason.

“We learned from last season and this year our mentality is different,” said senior quarterback Ryan Scott. “We have a lot more energy and a lot more confidence.”

Scott was a second-team All-Conference 28 selection last year for the Hawks. The 6’2, 205 pound Scott passed for 1,544 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for nearly 400 yards on the ground.

The Hawks pistol-read option offense all starts with Scott, who has proven he is a double-threat when the ball is in his hands.

Scott was 10-of-15 for 119 yards, one TD and one interception, in a half of work against Luray last week in the Hawks only scrimmage game of the summer.

Gilbert called the Hawks effort against the Bulldogs an uneven experience, but one that can be easily corrected.

“We had typical first game action mistakes,” Gilbert said. “Offensively we hurt ourselves mentally with first step, path, or aiming points. Easy fixes.”

Skyline’s running game should remain a strength this season with seniors Quentin Diggs (5’11, 200), Tucker Fortney (6’1, 180), and Kyle McHugh (5’10, 180) leading the way.

Diggs, who was injured frequently last year, led the team in rushing with 439 years and five TDs and 4.2 yard per carry average. Fortney gained 339 yards and scored five times while McHugh added 114 yards on just 11 carries.

The receiving corp should be strong as well, led by second-team All-Conference selection senior Louis Garcia (5’11, 160), and fellow senior Trenton King (5’8, 145). Garcia caught 33 passes for 524 yards and four TDs while Kings hauled in 34 passes for 439 yards and four scores.

Gilbert also expects junior Caleb Reedy (6’1, 171) and senior Matt Rutherford (5’11, 170) to contribute as well.

Junior Nathan Abel (6’2, 190) and sophomore Tyler Hugo (6’, 226) will man the tight end position for the Hawks.

Skyline will return three starters from the offensive line in senior Cedric Ausberry (6’2, 279), and juniors Ethan Nowell (6’, 220) and Marcel Roy (5’11, 258). Senior Tyler Compton ( 6’1, 235) and freshman William Wolf 6’1, 220) are expected to be the other starters.

The Hawks return some experience on the defensive side of the ball, but the key will for success willbe stopping the running games of opposing teams.

The Hawks were shredded last year for over 300 yards per game.

Gilbert saw signs of that during the scrimmage against Luray last Friday.

“Our number one goal was to see improvement in our run defense,” Gilbert said, “and we did see that at times. We also saw great effort and hustle to gang tackle. We are moving in the right direction.”

Nowell and Roy will be two starters on the defensive front four along with Abel and junior Jacob Grady (5’8, 190).

All three starting linebackers will return for the Hawks, led by Fortney and McHugh, and senior Justin Jenkins (5’11, 195). Diggs will be a key back-up at linebacker for the Hawks.

The secondary will be led by Rutherford, who Gibert says is a true stud and the star of summer camp at safety. Rutherford led the Hawks with two interceptions last year and added 42 tackles.

“It was pretty rough last year, we didn’t have much team chemistry,” Rutherford said. “This year we seem to all get along well. We have a lot of defensive backs returning and our defensive line just has to read their keys and hold teams to short gains. Last year we didn’t do that.”

Other starters in the secondary will be corners King and junior Ty Clingerman (5’7, 146).

Senior Bailey Smeltzer (5’11, 160) will be the other starting safety for the Hawks.

Key back-ups in the defensive backfield will be Garcia, and junior Laterrian Barber (5’8, 150).

Scott, a first-team All-Conference punter with a 38.5 average, will return to those duties this season for the Hawks.

Newcomers, freshman Douglas Cummings, and sophomore Jose Castillo will handle the kicking duties this year for Skyline.

Reedy and Garcia will give the Hawks some explosiveness in the punt and kick return game.

Scoring shouldn’t be a problem this year for the Hawks, as Skyline traditionally has no problem moving the chains and putting points on the board.

“Our skill guys are really good,” Scott said. “And I know I can count on our offensive line to do good. They were really dedicated in the off season, lifting and getting stronger.

“I think we are capable of having a winning season, but we’ve got to work hard.”

Gilbert agreed that the offseason was more productive for the Hawks, but still not where he would like to ultimately see the program head.

“We had 27 players earn their commitment shirts for attending 21 of 27 summer sessions, an improvement of six players,” Gilbert said. “But in order to truly become competitive on a regional level, we must give out 50 plus commitment shirts.”

Despite all the talent on the offensive side, Gilbert admits that the Hawks will only go as far as the inside players will take them.

“Our edge players both offensively and defensively are a strength,” Gilbert said. “We must show improvement continually on our defensive and offensive front. The game is always won or loss in the trenches no matter the year.”

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