Third-year Head Coach Doug Burns of the Pocahontas County High School Warriors is proud of his team’s effort this season. This year’s football roster listed just three returning senior starters: overachieving linemen Chad Burns and Nash Rose, and talented RB/SS Jimmy Campbell. Fortunately, for Burns, two senior athletes migrated from soccer to football, providing more senior leadership for the team.
Upperclassmen as a whole were scarce on the Warrior roster this season. Just five juniors played this season, meaning 26 of the 36 Warriors this season were freshman and sophomores. Despite the Warriors’ youth, they seriously scared some of the best teams in the state.
In Game Two against powerhouse Moorefield, the Warriors proved they could contend against a bigger, elite team. The Warrior defense held the Yellowjackets to one score in the first half, and the game wasn’t decided until late in the fourth quarter, when Moorefield got the go-ahead touchdown with just over a minute left in the game. The Warriors lost an even closer nail-biter against East Hardy two weeks later, when the Cougars scored a TD with 20 seconds remaining to tie the game, and won with a good extra point kick.
Unlike some coaches, Burns refuses to use his team’s youth as an excuse for poor performance. He said the goal is the same every year, to make the state playoffs and beyond.
“The goal every year is to get to the playoffs, you want to be in that top 16.” he said. “So, we fell a little short of that. I’m happy, but it’s bittersweet. Really, more than anything, I wanted this senior class to be able to taste the playoffs and have that opportunity. Unfortunately, we just fell a little short. There were a couple games that could have gone either way. Then again, I look back and I say, the five games that we lost are all state playoff teams and, with the exception of one of those games – the Man game – we were very competitive. We were in all those games until late in the game and just couldn’t seal the deal.”
Man is a contender for the state title this year, with an unusually large and athletic team. Several Hillbillies tilt the scales at more than 250 pounds and are not out of shape. Man overpowered the Warriors physically in the next-to-last game of the season and won by four TDs.
Like the great majority of Warrior fans, Burns considers the 5-5 season a success.
“There’s so many positives to take away from the season,” he said. “If I have to quantify the season, I’m going to say it’s a success. It’s not where we want to be. We always want to aim to be in that top 16. But overall, yes, it was a success.”
Like their Native American namesake, Burns said his team has a fighting spirit.
“The want-to of this team, the character of this team, is what I’m going to take away from this year,” he said. “We had a great group of seniors who led by example. It was just a fun group to be around. One thing I was definitely happy about is the fact that this team wants to be good. They have a competitive spirit about them. I think, as a coach, if you have that, you’ve got the biggest part whipped.”
Thinking about next season, Burns said it will be impossible to replace his senior class.
“I don’t even look at it as filling shoes, because those guys are really special,” he said. “Chad [Burns] and Nash [Rose] and Jimmy [Campbell] – all three of those guys have been football players all the way up through. We were very fortunate to have Stephen Simmons and Cary Robertson come over from soccer and they helped us out immensely. I don’t really look to replace them, but we should have guys step up next year who can try to fill those shoes.”
The Warriors will return five exceptional juniors next season, including RB/LB Dalton Irvine, who surpassed 1,000 all-purpose yards on offense and led a tough, speedy crew of linebackers on defense. Several overachieving underclassmen are also expected to return, including sophomore QB Wyatt Workman, who threw for seven TDs and 547 yards, and big Brady Jones, who led the team with eight sacks.
“There’s a lot to be excited about.” said Burns. “We have a lot of the skill players coming back next year and some good linemen. We’re definitely excited about the potential of this team. There’s no question – this team has a lot of potential, moving forward. But it’s only going to get realized if they do the work in the off-season and do the things they’ve got to do to make themselves better. It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.”