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Diamonds in the rough
Young Pioneers making strides
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With seniors sitting in several starting spots on the Warren County High School football team’s depth chart, young Pioneers have had to work hard to make an impression during fall practice.
Coach Tommy Johnson has wanted to see his veteran players tested by some relative newcomers and several players have stepped up to the challenge. Whether it has been opportunities due to another player’s injuries or moving positions, coach Johnson is seeing new players step up on a daily basis.
“With some guys having injuries and sitting out, other players have stepped in and made an impression,” said Johnson. “We have guys taking advantage of the reps they are getting and making themselves better each day.”
Darius Wright is one player who went into fall practice searching for a spot and may leave practice as one of the team’s most indispensable players. The skilled sophomore got his opportunity when junior fullback Tristan Reish had to miss practice due to a shoulder injury, opening the door for a Wright to emerge.
Wright has been a wrecking ball carrying the football ever since. With a rugged running style and the ability to protect the passer, Wright figures to be a part of the rotation at running back and fullback the rest of the season.
Other young players making a push for significant playing time include sophomores Rickie King and Jordan Tidwell, along with freshman lineman Ethan Stuart.
King made the transition from WCMS running back to cornerback during his first season at Warren County High School last year. Playing time was sparse behind seniors Ty Worthington and Alex Hillis, but their graduation opened the door for King to make his impact. Coach Johnson, a former defensive back, thinks King can be the team’s lock-down corner.
Tidwell is also making strides in the Pioneer secondary at free safety. Tidwell turned heads with his physical play at wide receiver as a freshman and that physicality is paying dividends on defense this year.
Tidwell is currently starting on the back line of the defense while senior Lee Carden recovers from a leg injury. The sophomore free safety should remain in the regular playing rotation after Carden’s return.
Stuart was a player the coaching staff wanted to bring along slowly, but his size and skill are too much to keep off the field. Stuart, standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 290 pounds, already has the physical tools to compete on the varsity level.
His grasp of the team’s offense is improving every day, making him a viable option to be a starter on opening night Friday, Aug. 23.
Park Hilliard is a newcomer to the Pioneers this year like Stuart, but he is three years older than the freshman lineman. Hilliard is making a return to the football program in his senior year after a taking last season off to focus on baseball.
Coaches have welcomed Hilliard’s comeback with open arms as the lanky receiver could be a difference maker in the team’s passing attack.
Another senior turning heads is Christian Taylor, although not at the position most expected. Taylor received extensive playing time at linebacker last year, but has stood out to coaches in practices this year on the offensive line.
Taylor plays with good pad leverage and works hard while playing guard during the absence of senior Ethan Turner, who is expected to miss a few more days while dealing with a hip injury. When Turner returns, Taylor still will be counted on to provide depth on the interior of the line.
Junior Bryson Lewis is another Pioneer enjoying a resurgence during fall practice. Lewis arrived at WCHS with most expecting the 1,400-yard rusher at WCMS to make an immediate impact. Although Lewis has played the last two years, his numbers never stood out as a superstar in the making.
With new offensive coordinator Chris MacKeown bringing in a new scheme, Lewis has emerged as a threat out of the backfield once again. Coach Johnson has praised the junior running back for his aggressiveness during practice and is hopeful he can be a great change-of-pace back behind starter Cameron Lusk.
Players will get to make their mark this Friday when the Pioneer football teams travel for preseason scrimmages. The varsity team will go to the Marshall County jamboree Friday to play two quarters against Lincoln County.
Coach Greg Cotten will be taking the freshman and junior varsity Pioneers to Manchester for a scrimmage against Coffee County.