What did the North Hagerstown football team do on its summer vacation?
The Hubs rediscovered their passing game.
North had successful runs in several 7-on-7 showcases this summer, a sign that the Hubs will at least take a more balanced offensive approach in 2011 than they did last season.
“Without a doubt, we have to be more balanced than we were last year,” said Dan Cunningham, who is entering his 11th season as North’s coach. “We have a lot of special athletes and we have to find ways to get the ball to the kids on the outside and let them make plays.”
The Hubs passed for just 700 yards last season, well below average for teams under Cunningham, who was a North quarterback himself about 20 years ago.
Cunningham expects to get a lot more production from the passing game this year as J.T. Root assumes the starting quarterback role after seeing some action under center last season. Root completed 11 of 21 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns in a part-time role behind starter Steve Coccodrilli in 2010.
But Root excelled during the summer passing season, throwing 39 touchdowns and just five interceptions during a showcase in Cleveland.
“The summer was very important for him. He really grew tremendously,” Cunningham said. “He has a much better grasp of the offense, the checkdowns, he knows his reads.
“He has a crazy good arm. He can make all the throws, the biggest thing was just getting him the reps.”
Root will have a wealth of receivers to target, including senior Josh Hall, who was the Hubs’ leading receiver last year with 16 catches for 257 yards.
He’ll also have seniors Nick Colvin, J.R. Railing and Sergio Galvan and junior Justin Green, a transfer from Boonsboro.
“What’s great is we’ve been able to use these guys in the system all summer long,” Cunnigham said. “The summer helped all of them, too, not just Root. They all put forth effort to get better. We’re going to be pretty much all over the place.”
The imbalance didn’t keep North from going 6-4 last year, largely due to the running of Anthony Winter, who is now at Shepherd University.
Winter shattered a number of single-season and career rushing records with his 1,702-yard senior year and made the passing game a little less of a necessity.
“We had always given our running backs 15, 17 carries a game,” Cunningham said. “Anthony sort of blew that out of the water last year. It was easy to just keep giving him the ball and a lot of times, we just didn’t have to throw.”
Cunningham said the Hubs won’t have a featured back this year, at least not in the way Winter was used last season. Tre Anderson, who gained 475 yards as Winter’s primary backup, will figure to get the most carries.
He’ll be com plemented at the tailback position by junior Phillip Butler and sophomore Isaiah Keyes. Juniors Brandon Brown and Kyle Hewlett also will get carries from the fullback position.
Perhaps most important to the North offense is the health of its offensive line, which has dealt with numerous injuries in the last three years. This season, the line will be anchored by seniors Dylan Dopson, Dalton Shoemaker and Daved Paddack.
“We’ve been young on the line the last couple years because we’ve had to shuffle guys in for injuries and we’re still a little young this year,” Cunningham said. “We have those seniors, but we’ll still be starting a sophomore guard and junior tackle.”
Defensively, Cunningham said this year’s squad is as athletic as he’s had at North. Because of that, he said it will likely be a more aggressive group.
“(Defensive coordinator Roy) Shoemaker has a ton of athletes that he can send, so there will probably be some old West Virginia blitzes coming. We’ll probably show a lot of three- and five-man fronts,” Cunningham said. “I don’t think the defense is going to be a problem.”
The defense will be steadied in the middle by linebacker Alex Courtney, who was second on the team last season with 76 tackles. He’ll be joined by Brown, Anderson and Hewlett at linebacker, while Hall, Galvan, Butler and Spencer Morgan will man the defensive backfield.
If the Hubs remain healthy, Cunningham sees no reason why they cannot post their second straight winning season. He does admit that a playoff berth could be a tougher task with North moving from Class 2A West to 3A West.
“The 3A West, if it’s not the toughest region in the state, it’s in the top two,” Cunningham said. “And our schedule doesn’t fit a 3A West schedule. Other than Roosevelt (the Hubs’ season-opening opponent Friday), it doesn’t suit a 3A team.
“It’d be nice if we could do an independent schedule, pick up Jefferson, Martinsburg, even Waynesboro and Chambersburg. That’d be more beneficial to us than traveling to Frederick or Carroll counties and allow us to be competitive in the 3A schedule.”