Last season the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets returned to prominence. They put together a 9-3 season that included their first district championship since 2006 and defeated arch rival Bell County for the first time since 1997.
But the year ended with a disappointing 19-13 overtime loss to Somerset in the second round of the playoffs.
Middlesboro returns all but six players who saw time in that final playoff game. And with a talented group of 16 seniors leading the way, they are hoping to take care of unfinished business and bring home at least a regional championship this year.
To help take that next step the Jackets have brought in Zach Massengill to coach the team. Massengill was a running back and defensive back on Middlesboro’s 1998 state championship team and served as an assistant on two state title-winning teams at Boyle County. He’s not shying away from big expectations entering his first season as a head coach.
“My expectation is to win every ballgame. To be a competitor, you’ve got to want to win every time you set foot on the field and I think these kids have the same expectations,” he said. “They feel like they were a game or two short last year. Obviously, we’ve got to start with a district championship and we want to win it outright. The next step is a regional championship, and we want to wind up with a state championship — everybody does. Having been there a few times as a coach and a player, some breaks have to go your way at that level. Everybody is pretty good from the third round on.
“These kids have those goals and expectations, luckily they match up with my goals and expectations. We have to go to work every day and get better every day in practice in order to reach those goals, along with some luck staying healthy and having the ball bounce our way.”
While the schemes may be a little different, the Jackets still figure to show multiple looks on offense and feature a strong ground game headed by senior All-Staters Ryan Pittman and Seth Barton.
Pittman, who sat out that loss to Somerset with a badly sprained ankle, led Middlesboro with nearly 1400 rushing yards. He scored 12 touchdowns on the ground and four more on returns. Barton added over 800 rushing yards and a team-high 16 TDs. He also scored four times through the air with one return touchdown.
“They’ve got a lot of game experience. They’re workhorses and they run the football hard,” Massengill said of his two main backs.
During the preseason the Jackets have lined up in a one-back set with Barton at slot receiver, with Barton and Pittman both in a split backfield and in the I formation. They’ve also show some wishbone looks with Gabe Fuson, Hayden Burnside or Parker Evans joining them in the backfield.
Senior Major Edwards is the starting quarterback and provides a dual threat as a powerful runner. Fellow senior Tyler Yoakum provides the same body type and will also see some time behind center. Whenever one is not playing quarterback they will often line up at tight end.
Outside Middlesboro returns senior receiver Jake Brock at one split end. Seniors Tanner Hoskins and Jesse Hoskins along with junior Logan Capps are the primary targets at the other wideout.
Five seniors will man the offensive line: Center Jared Hoskins (6-0, 205), guards Nick Shoffner (6-0, 280) and Brad King (6-0, 265), and tackles Matt Schneider (6-0, 250) and Nick King (6-0, 260).
“They’re big, strong kids and when they decide to they can move people off the football,” Massengill said. “I think the strength of our football team could be our offensive line. If that happens and we can really feed the ball to those guys behind our line we’ll be in great shape.”
On defense the Jackets will run a familiar 4-4 set. Junior Daniel Webb (6-2, 270) and senior Deron Gregory (5-10, 265) are the tackles with Schneider manning one defensive end and the Kings splitting time at the other.
Jared Hoskins and Yoakum are the starters at inside linebacker with Pittman at one OLB and Fuson or Edwards manning the other. Burnside will also see plenty of time rotating in at linebacker.
Brock and Jesse Hoskins are the starting corners with Barton at safety. Tanner Hoskins, Capps and freshman Corey Harriston provide depth in the secondary.
“We’ve got a lot of athleticism in our secondary. I think our linebackers will get better each week and our defensive line has got a lot of size to them. We just have to learn to play low at all times and sustain our gaps. If we can do that, that can be one of our strengths, too,” Massengill said.
Tanner Hoskins will handle the place kicking duties and be the primary punter with Jake Brock providing another option as a rugby-type punter. Brock, Barton and Pittman will handle returns.
Middlesboro opens the season on Satruday with a long trip to Northern Kentucky to play Grant County. The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
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Middlesboro Yellow Jackets
|2014 MHS Schedule|
|Aug. 23||at Grant County||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 5||at Pineville||7:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 12||Bell County||7:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 19||Harlan||7:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 26||Pikeville||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 3||at Union, Va.||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 10||at Lexington Christian*||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 17||Danville*||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 24||Somerset*||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 31||at Lynn Camp||7:30 p.m.|
|* District 7-2A game|