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MAN — The last four years had been a challenge for the Man High School football team as the Hillbillies tried to regain their footing in Class AA ball after spending more than a decade and having a successful Single-A run.

Last year, the Billies had a breakout season, finishing 8-3 and advancing to the Class AA playoffs, resulting in a 48-16 loss at Bluefield in the opening round.

Man started out the season 7-0 and climbed as high as No. 5 in the state rankings.

This fall brings new challenges to the Billies with the delayed start of the season due to COVID-19 concerns.

The good news is that Man is back to Class A ball and with many players returning from last year’s successful team, the Billies are looking to not only make a return to the playoffs but also make a deep Single-A post-season run.

Man did very well as a Class A team in the 2000s and into the early to mid-2010s.

The high water mark was in the 2009 season when Man went 12-2, winning three home playoff games and eventually going to the Wheeling Super Six where the Billies lost 27-7 to Weirton Madonna in the Class A state championship game.

Man made five playoffs appearances as a Class A school in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2015, going 5-7.

The Billies advanced past the first round in 2005 and 2008 and also the 2009 state championship game season.

The last four years, Man was bumped back up to Class AA ball.

After the 2015 season, many were shocked to see the Billies being moved up. In fact, Man was the only school in the state to move up in classification, thus making the Billies the smallest Double-A school in the entire state by way of enrollment.

As a Class AA school, Man was 5-5 in 2016, 1-9 in 2017 and 6-4 in 2018 before last year’s breakout.

Man coach Harvey Arms, the dean of southern West Virginia high school football coaches, enters his 19th season at the helm. He has a 101-86 record and eight playoff appearances and says his team has a look to look forward to this season if everything is able to run smoothly.

“We for sure have hopes of a good season,” Arms said. “We have several players back from last year that played really well for us. We have high hopes. The fact that we went down to Single-A didn’t change our schedule much but we think that we have a good tough schedule and we will be able to compete. We are looking for great things, if and when we are able to get started.”

Man heads into the season, however, with question marks at quarterback as senior starter Caleb Milton has graduated. He threw for nearly 1,000 yards last year.

The Billies will most likely look to junior Jeremiah Harless or junior transfer Israel Canterbury from Belfry, Kentucky to fill the void. Harless was 3 of 6 passing for 66 yards and a touchdown last year in spot duty. Canterbury made two starts for Belfry last fall.

“Quarterback is probably the most uncertain position that we have now,” Arms said. “We’ll just have to wait until practice gets started now and see who can compete hard and who can lead the team. Harless played the last two games last year and he’s coming back. Canterbury will also be in the mix at quarterback for sure.”

Junior Colby Woodall and sophomore Jayden Moody are Man’s other two QB’s on the roster.

“In our three-week period we worked with some younger guys. A big thing from your quarterback position is that you need leadership,” Arms said. “Colby backed up a little bit for us last year and was our scout quarterback. We worked some with Jayden Moody also at quarterback. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

Man will look to take it to the ground again this fall in Arms’ rushing-oriented attack.

Just like last season, the Billies have depth there and a good mix of speed and power.

Sophomore Josh Moody, a speedy tailback, returns this fall for Man. He had a good freshman season a year ago in Man’s running back by committee system as he rushed for 528 yards on 60 carries and scored 10 touchdowns.

Man also returns senior Cameron Frye who rolled up another 515 yards on 61 carries last season with three touchdowns.

Seniors Nick Plumley and Erick Grimmett also return to the Man backfield. Plumley had 264 yards on the ground last season on 41 carries and scored five touchdowns. Grimmett had around 100 yards total rushing and finished with one score.

Top rusher Zack Frye has graduated.

“We have Josh Moody and Cameron Frye back and they were both starters last year,” Arms said. “They were the two of our leading rushers last year. We’ve also got two seniors that played in Plumley and Grimmett and both of them have improved considerably. Hopefully we will have some young guys coming in that can help us there as well and for the future.”

At wide receiver, Man graduates its top two targets in Quentin Moody (12 catches, 364 yards, two touchdowns) and Sam Milton (12, 327, 2).

Jayden Moody two had a couple of catches for 15 yards last season, will likely be one of Man’s top receivers.

Harless, when not playing QB, will also be deployed at wideout. He had two grabs for 41 yards and a touchdown last season. Sophomore Chris Isaacs gives Man another option.

“We’d like to put some of our best athletes out there at receiver,” Arms said. “At times, we could even put Josh Moody or Cameron Frye out there. We have opportunities to move some of our players around.”

Frye reeled in 12 passes for 149 yards and a TD last year. Josh Moody had a single catch that went for a 51-yard touchdown.

Up front on the offensive line, Man returns senior starter Kenny Greene.

Senior starter Evan Mullins is also back.

Senior tackle Josh Lambert also returns but Arms said he might be moving to guard this year.

Seniors Colton Frye and Zander Mullins are other linemen who could be in the mix for the Billiles.

In Man’s run-heavy scheme it’s critical offensive linemen block and create holes.

“Whether you pass it or run it your offensive line has to be good,” Arms said. “You have to be able to protect your quarterback and create space.”

Along the defensive line, many of Man’s O-linemen will flip over.

“A lot of them will play both ways,” Arms said. “We don’t have the kind of numbers where we can play two platoon. It would be great if we could. We will be playing most of our guys pretty much both ways.”

At linebacker, Grimmett returns to his starting post. He led Man in tackles last season with 80 total stops, including an interception.

Frye is also back at linebacker. He had 27 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, a sack and four pass breakups in 2019.

Plumley, who played defensive end last season, is being moved back to the middle in the linebacker corps. He had 37 tackles, three sacks, a safety and two forced fumbles last fall.

Brock Muncy and Zack Frye, two top linebackers last season, have graduated.

“We’re looking for some new players for our linebacker spots and we might be moving some players around,” Arms said.

In the secondary, Harless and both Moodys are expected to start. Harless recorded 33 tackles, a pass breakup, an interception and a fumble recovery last year. Josh Moody had 17 stops, three picks and a pass breakup.

“Again, we’d like to use some new players and hopefully they can contribute to our secondary and see what we can get done with them,” Arms said.

In the special teams, Jaxon Tipton is the likely kicker, while the punting job remains open.

“It’s pretty much open tryouts but we’ve got two or three punters who have been looking like they could get some distance,” Arms said. “Tipton looks like he’s going to be pretty good. He’s a soccer player and he’s come out for football. He’s been doing good at place kicking and we hope to do better there.”

Man’s 2020 football schedule is very difficult and the Hillbillies will be playing one of the most challenging slates for a Class A school in the entire state.

Class AA teams Mingo Central and Independence and Class A squads Buffalo and Wheeling Central, the three-time reigning state champions have been added to the schedule.

“We picked up Buffalo. We’ve played them before and got them back on the schedule,” Arms said. “We also picked up Independence, Wheeling Central, Calhoun County and Mingo Central. We have a tough schedule. We like to play hard and compete with everybody.”

Man’s October 29 home game against Class A rival Tug Valley is scheduled to be broadcast live on WCHS-TV as part of the Friday Night Rivals series. Last year’s road game at Point Pleasant, a 7-0 win by the Big Blacks, was also televised.

The Billies are slated to open the season on September 11 at home against Westside.

Rounding out the schedule are games against county rival Chapmanville, a home game against Point Pleasant and an added home game against Calhoun County which replaced the canceled opener against county rival Logan.

Man and Logan are not playing each other for the first time since 1969.

The Hillbillies open the season by playing four out of their first five homes on the road, including a four-game away stretch after the home opener against the Renegades.

Man then closes out the regular season with four straight home games.

The Billies were Logan County champions last year with blowout wins over Logan (62-8) and Chapmanville (33-8).

Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. Follow him on Twitter at @PAdkinsBanner or email him at padkins@hdmediallc.com

Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. Follow him on Twitter at @PAdkinsBanner or email him at padkins@hdmediallc.com