MORGANTOWN - Coach John Bowers' Morgantown team is again considered among the favorites to bring home a West Virginia Class AAA state championship this season. That's not news, he said, because the Mohigans have been fortunate enough to be in contention for several consecutive years.
''But we won our last title in 2005 and that is a little too long ago for me,'' Bowers said. ''Since 2006, we've lost at the eventual state champ's house four different times.
''Now that doesn't mean yeah, we're No. 2. But we're in the discussion and I hope to continue to be in the discussion.''
Morgantown is set to face a tremendously tough schedule that features two-time defending state champion Martinsburg, perennial Ohio power Steubenville, 2011 playoff participant Wheeling Park and a Parkersburg South club that returns just about everyone from a team the Mohigans knocked out of the postseason last year. The good thing though, is all but Wheeling Park have to come to Pony Lewis Field.
''If we're as good as people think, that's who we should play,'' Bowers said. ''If anyone in our area is playing Big Red and Martinsburg in out-of-conference games, I don't know who they are.''
The Mohigans are blessed with an abundance of returning firepower at the offensive skill positions, starting in the backfield where junior Chazzy Thomas (5-foot-11, 179 pounds) and seniors Alex Weidman (5-9, 185) and Jalen Thomas (5-11, 234) will again roam.
''They can all play tailback and they're our three best runners,'' Bowers said.
Also looking for time at running back are sophomores Tristan Walker (5-10, 165) and Dion Tolliver (5-7, 160), as well as senior Kazu Negri (5-7, 155).
Jalen Thomas is the starter at fullback. Junior Logan Hatch (6-1, 193), sophomore Ross Weidman (5-10, 180), Alex's brother, and senior Albie Eddy (5-10, 194) are all pushing for time.
Preseason all-stater Mark Johnson, a 6-3, 178-pound senior returns at quarterback. He will be backed by sophomore Ethan Goldcamp (6-2, 170) and freshman Jarret Hockenberry (6-4, 180). Bowers says they will have a heckuva competition next season for the starting job.
''He's a multi-faceted QB who can run and throw,'' Bowers said of Johnson ''He's a good athlete and a football coach's kid.
''And he's just goofy enough that he doesn't feel much pressure.''
When Johnson looks to throw, his top target figures to be senior Blaine Stewart (6-2, 186), who Bowers describes as ''very gifted, with great hands.'' Hockenberry will likely start on the other side, with backups to include seniors Evan Harman (6-1, 161) and Shane Commodore (6-2, 193), as well as juniors Sean Watson (5-10, 162), T.J. Haws (5-9, 150) and Alex Anderson (5-11, 147), and sophomores Shea Campbell (5-10, 163) and Garrett Cain (5-11, 151).
''Tight end is probably our deepest position in terms of quality,'' Bowers said.
Stone Wolfley, a 6-4, 220-pound sophomore transfer, is entrenched as the starter there. Seniors Jordan Malone (6-0, 189), J.P. Campbell (5-9, 190) and Walt McCollough (5-11, 205), who is out for the first time, and junior R.J. Martin (5-11, 202) will all see time.
A huge strength of last season's Morgantown team was its offensive line, but only one starter is back. That's senior and three-year starter Adam White (6-2, 272) at left tackle. He's backed by seniors Taylor Ortiz (6-2, 273) and Levi Ansel (6-2, 241), as well as junior Evan Greene (6-2, 252).
''Where we were very, very good up front, I think we will be good this year,'' Bowers said. ''We're awful green right now.''
Junior D.J. Summers (6-1, 277) will start at right tackle and is being pushed by classmate Hunter Coker (5-7, 238) and Greene.
Senior Clayton Porter (5-8, 240) and junior Bryce Wharry (6-2, 209) were locked in a battle to see who was going to start at left guard during the preseason. Support will be supplied by juniors Amanii Brown (6-5, 245) and Cody Maurin (5-9, 208).
Junior Andre Collins (6-3, 256) is ticketed to start at right guard, with Ortiz and juniors James Guynn (6-1, 240) and Luke Mocniak (5-11, 210) ready and willing at the drop of a hat.
At center is senior Jake Rogers (5-8, 282) with help from junior Zach Mayle (6-1, 252) and Brown, along with fellow junior DeShon Gibson (5-8, 236).
Brown or Wolfley will handle the long snapping duties, with Goldcamp or Stewart doing the holding. Junior Ruan Venter (6-1, 192) and senior Megan DeBastiani (5-6, 128) were fighting for the kicking duties, with Grant Jones (6-1, 170) also in the mix.
Senior Jesse Tabron (6-0, 255) is back to anchor the defense from his nose guard position. Ortiz and Summers are listed as his primary backups.
Ansel and Collins, one of the few two-way starters, are the defensive ends. Looking for reps are White, Wolfley, Brown, Ortiz and Greene.
Scheduled to start at outside linebacker are Alex Weidman and Campbell, backed by Eddy, junior Logan Compton (5-9, 187) and Ross Weidman.
Jalen Thomas is a starter at one inside linebacker, with Hatch and Malone battling for the other spot. Ross Weidman, McCullough, Mocniak and Martin are ready to see action.
Harman returns at one cornerback position while junior Will Rockis (6-3, 182) will man the other. Chazy Thomas, Anderson, Walker , Haws and Negri all could see action.
Shane Commodore locks things down as a returning starter at one safety, with Stewart having the inside track on the other. Also looking for playing time are Shea Campbell and Hockenberry.
Alex Weidman and Chazzy Thomas will return kicks, with the latter also bringing back punts.
Bowers is assisted by Willie Edwards, Tom Powers, Jason Kruger, Matt Lacy, Craig Mason, Greg Dausch, Pat White, Pat Mascaro, Anthony Giambrone, Jimmy Fortuna, Chris Armel, Alex Sofillas, Steve Poland, Bill Hedrick and Albie Eddy.