By Rick Sheek
Lane Smith is healthy and back under center, the Bulldogs’ offensive arsenal is opening up and the outlook is bright at J.C. Campbell Stadium.
Spring practice just wrapped up after a scrimmage with David Crockett, which offered impressive results for Hampton’s football team. “We had a good turnout,” Hampton coach Mike Lunsford said on Tuesday morning. “It was hard to get them out all of time, but we had a good eight days outside. We had close to or above 40 every day.
“We really got a lot of things accomplished. We’ve got some new kids and got to practice them in some new positions, which turned out good for us.”
Smith, who broke his ankle during basketball season, was 6-of-8 passing through the air during the exhibition affair.
“He looked really good,” Lunsford said. “He had a real good spring. He threw the ball well, working a lot of our spread stuff with five wides.
“We had one dropped, and one he should have hit. We have some pretty good looking receivers all the way around the field. We looked pretty efficient in the spread.”
The primary wide receivers are Brady Tolley and Mark Ailport, who didn’t participate in spring drills due to baseball. Chris Ellis is also in the lineup, after sitting out a year following a transfer from Johnson County.
“He looks good,” Lunsford said of Ellis. “He ran the ball some and in the spread looked real good. He caught the ball real good, and is just learning about what he has to do.”
Wideouts Anthony Carver and Dalton Carden “looked real good and caught the ball real well.”
Boo Dugger lines up as an imposing 6-foot-3 tight end. He won’t be just blocking this fall.
“He looked good going down the middle,” Lunsford said. “This year he’s moving a little faster and is a little more athletic. He’s got real good hands, so we decided to use him instead of just a flex tight end.”
B.J. Taylor and Tyler Chambers will also hook up with Smith out of the backfield, where they are the main ball carriers.
“They both ran the ball real well,” Lunsford said.
Other running backs are Ellis, Ford, Trey Brown, Tristan Robinson and Jacob Smith.
“We pushed them around in different formations,” Lunsford said. “They all ran the ball hard. We’ve got to get more disciplined, but it was our first time out in live competition last Thursday.
“We think we’ll be all right back there. We don’t have a Waters, but have two or three that do other things. It will be a little different kind of team than we were last year where we relied on two people. This year we will spread it around, and hopefully get a lot out of more kids.”
Massive freshman Zack Guinn (6-3, 360) is the center.
“He’ll probably start,” Lunsford said. “He looks good and is improving. He’s come a long way. He did a good job on the defensive line, too.”
Koty Scalf returns at guard, where he is joined by strapping Juan Pearson. The tackles are Ty Lewis and Darian Balado, who deadlifted 555 pounds and benched 325.
“He’s the strongest kid on the team,” Lunsford said of Balado. “He’s the man, and very quick. He is probably our best lineman, just a team leader and hard worker.
“He’s the kind of kid you enjoy coaching. The whole line is, really. We’re going to be pretty good sized on the line.”
With 2,000-yard back Phillip Waters and 1,000-yard bruiser Justin Adkins departed, the assignments up front will change.
“They all move pretty well,” Lunsford said. “We have to block, and we want to block a little longer than with Waters and Adkins. I think we can.”
The coach likes the talent on the other side of the football, also.
“Defensively we looked really good in the scrimmage,” Lunsford said. “You can’t tell that much in practice. One area that concerned me was inside linebacker, because I felt pretty good with our outside linebackers.”
Chambers, Jacob Smith, Robinson and Ford are top performers at that position. Taylor adds some depth.
“They all played well in there,” Lunsford said. “I’m not sure which one is the best, but probably in the season we’ll go with Chambers on the outside and Smith and Robinson inside. Carver made some plays in the scrimmage that made us consider him a starter.”
Brown and Lewis are the defensive ends. Rotating at defensive tackle are Balado, Scalf and Dugger.
“The defensive line is where we’ll have to play well,” Lunsford said. “That will have to be one of our strengths.”
Brent Buckles will be a versatile athlete on the defensive front.
“He will be like our swing guy, at end and tackle,” Lunsford said. “He really played hard in the scrimmage. He was a kid we weren’t sure how much we’d get out of, but he’s worked hard and we think he’ll be an asset. He’s come a long ways from where he was, didn’t get to play last year, but looks good and we think he’ll be a big help.”
The secondary returns intact with Lane Smith, Tolley, Ailport, Carver and Anthony Oliver.
“We’ve got a little more depth,” Lunsford said. “If everybody comes back with the right attitude to work, we’ll have a real good football team. It really looks a lot better now than it did at the end of last season.”
Chambers is the kicker and Dugger is the punter.
Hampton is the reigning Mountain East Conference champion. The Bulldogs went 9-2 last fall, after an 8-0 start, and were eliminated in the second round of the Class 2A state playoffs by Oneida.