By CHRIS HOBBS
HICKORY RED TORNADOES
Conference: Northwestern 3A-4A.
Head coach: Russell Stone (268-160-5, 37 years; 6-6 at Hickory, 1 year).
Last season’s records: 6-6 overall; 4-3 Northwestern 3A-4A, tied for third place.
Last season’s results: Statesville, L 26-27, OT; Newton-Conover, L 26-45; at Hunter Huss, W 28-27; at Bandys, W 33-10; at McDOWELL, W 36-13; FREEDOM, L 30-35; at WATAUGA, L 42-49; W. CALDWELL, W 66-49; at S. CALDWELL, W 27-23; ALEXANDER CENTRAL, W 38-28; at ST. STEPHENS, L 16-22; Playoffs: at Weddington, L 24-55.
SCHOOL FOOTBALL HISTORY
Last season in state playoffs: 2017, 3A.
Last state playoff victory: 2012, d. Hibriten 35-17, first round.
All-time state playoff bids (modern era): 25.
Conference titles (or shares) since 1980, last: 9, 2007 Catawba Valley Athletic 2A-3A.
BY THE NUMBERS
Returning starters: 12.
Returning lettermen: 19.
Returning starters: 6.
Leading returning rusher: Quintavius Saddler, 5-9, 230, Sr. (69-306, 6 TDs).
Leading returning passer: None.
Leading returning receiver: Kevin Shuford, 5-7, 160, Sr. (37-526, 2 TDs).
Other players to watch: Jaylyn Harper, 6-2, 168, WR, Sr.; Harrison Boston, 6-0, 218, K-P, Sr.; Malcom Eley, 5-8, 220, OL, Sr.; Damien Mautz, 5-9, 237, OL, Jr.;
Top newcomers: Bryce Stober, 5-7, 172, QB, Sr. (missed last year with injury); De Bryant, 6-3, 305, OL, Soph.; Lane Logan, 5-10, 168, WR, Jr.; Greyson Linebarger, 5-11, 240, OL, Jr.
Returning starters: 6.
Players to watch: Sebastian Parrish, 6-1, 228, MLB, Jr.; Jaden Byrd, 6-3, 272, DL, Soph.; Deandre Carlton, 5-8, 160, Safety, Jr.; Tristan Rankin, 6-3, 197, Safety, Jr.; Elijah Millsaps, 5-10, 170, DB, Jr.; Nkosie Abernathy, 6-5, 268, DE, Sr.; Quintavious Saddler, 5-9, 230, LB, Sr.; De Bryant, 6-3, 305, OL, Soph.
There are few things that HHS’ Russell Stone has not encountered in his sterling coaching career, including resetting an offense that was built/succeeded around/via one or two players.
Graduated QB Derrien Phillips was THE guy the last few seasons for the Red Tornadoes – more often than not hooking up with graduated WR Jaekwon Staton – so HHS must figure out who (and how) to go at this in a different way.
Stone’s returning starters from a 6-6 team are evenly split – six on each side of the ball – and he can build around returning RB Kevin Shuford. And, like always, the Red Tornadoes have a solid kicker in senior Harrison Boston (have they ever not had a stud kicker?).
Bryce Stober, a good athlete, is expected to start at QB this season after battling injuries for two years while Shuford, Jaylin Harper and Davis Amos are receiving targets.
Quintavious Saddler is a top rushing threat for the Red Tornadoes, who averaged 32.6 points per game last season.
Being as high-scoring this year may be a tough request of the HHS offense. And the HHS defense, bottom line, has to make big leaps if the Red Tornadoes want to contend for the Northwestern 3A-4A title (gave up 383 points last year).
HHS has an all-junior secondary back and has a long way to go elsewhere to play at a level that will get the team to (or beyond) another .500 record.
Stone took the Red Tornadoes from a 2-9 record the year before to six wins last season.
Expecting a four-win increase this year is probably unrealistic because the Northwestern 3A-4A has some pretty good teams again, but HHS is always athletic enough to make things happen.
In the program’s lean years – 4-29 over a three-year run that began in 2014 – area coaches often privately mentioned the Red Tornadoes as predictable (as in still doing many things the same way they did back as far as 1991 when the late Frank Barger was head coach).
HHS will be competitive this season and capable of earning a state playoff bid again as Stone attempts to get the program back to its prideful spot in Catawba County. Some of the best prep football ever played in the county was by HHS and the unbeaten 1996 team (16-0) is hands down the best football team in my 40-plus years following the sport in the county. That team, I believe, could have beaten Lenoir-Rhyne University that year.