Hampton fields veteran club looking like a contender
By Ivan Sanders
They started out as inexperienced pups, but now the Hampton Middle Jr. Dogs are ready to be unleashed to challenge for the title with the rest of the Little Watauga Conference teams in 2003.
"We are a veteran club all the way around," stated head Jr. Dog handler Kelly Oliver. "Our backs coming back are real solid as well as the interior line."
Anchoring the line is a player that can claim to be the biggest player in the conference, including the coaching staffs of each team. Standing 6-5 and weighing in at 337 pounds, 14-year old tackle Steven Roop looks down at ever player and coach in the league, literally.
Even without Roop, the team is a big team across the front with a strong returning starter in David Caldwell manning a tackle position. Brandon Potter is a three-year starter and the smallest of the lineman, but according to Oliver is the biggest hitter.
The Jr. Dog backfield is an offensive coach's dream and Alan Weddle is dreaming big things with this year's team. Dustin Milhorn solidifies the team from the quarterback position where he is surrounding by big-time players in Dustin Jaynes, Brooks Price, and Jared Irick.
Said Oliver: "Milhorn is small, but he is real smart. He runs the option very well and can really run the show. Jaynes has sheer ability and speed to run the ball while Price is a finesse player that can see the field really well. Irick is just a big ol' back that is tremendously strong and fast."
If there were an offensive weakness, it would lie in the fact that the Jr. Dogs are not the throwing team like they have been in the past. In the last few seasons, Oliver's team counted on the pass to gain big yardage, but this season the key to Hampton Middle's success will fall on the players in the offensive backfield.
Hampton will see the lineman basically play two ways with the entire line being eighth graders except center Logan Andrews, who is only a sixth grader but is a leader on the line for Oliver.
Two other players to watch defensively for the Jr. Dogs will be a big and strong defensive tackle in Justin Bentley, and Jonathan Scalf. Scalf is a player that will see time on the defensive line as well as at linebacker.
The key to the 2003 season for Hampton will be finding a leader and pure old luck.
"To have a good season, you need luck because you will not always show up to play every night," said Oliver. "As far as leadership, you either come into the world as a leader or you don't. You cannot make a leader."
Added Oliver: "Even though we are blessed with a tremendous coaching staff, some of these kids will have to take it on themselves to become the true leaders for us to be successful."
Oliver said he sees the conference unfolding with the Johnson County Longhorns being the best team along with the Unaka Rangers being there as well.
Hampton kicks off the 2003 season today at J.C. Campbell Stadium at 5 p.m. against the Boones Creek Bars. Cloudland comes calling Thursday, Aug. 28 to open conference play.