Behind such quality signal-callers as Synjyn Days, Gage Henry, Troy Thompson and Elijah Ironside, the Hawks have gone 61-20 since 2007 and reached the state playoffs five times in seven years.
But with the graduation of Ironside and his primary backup, Conner Beck, Hillgrove coach Phillip Ironside used the recently completed spring practice to evaluate the latest level of talent he has at the position, led by rising junior Matt Wilson and rising sophomore Bryson Parks.
“They’ve had some good success on the junior varsity and freshman teams,” Ironside said. “They’re smart, talented guys who have a good grasp of the offense.
“They’re smaller guys than what we’ve had in the past, but they can move around and make things happen. They’ve been enjoyable to coach, and they’ve done some good things in practice. We’re in a much better deal with the two-quarterback system, so that’s something that we’re possibly looking at doing again this season.”
While the battle to start at quarterback is expected to heat up during summer practices, most of the other skill positions will also receive heavy scrutiny after the loss of running back Richardre Bagley and wide receivers Omar Black, Justin Denton and Emanuel Beal.
“Richard Hallman and Marcus Bowens have probably had the best (spring) practices out of our seniors,” Ironside said. “They played last year, and they’ve caught the ball well over the past couple of weeks. I’ve liked what they’ve given us in terms of leadership, too.”
The running back positions appear to be locked up by returners Sonny Harris and Eric Montgomery. Other players could factor into the mix as well as Ironside is pleased with the depth at the position.
“Sonny and Eric are two guys who have had a great spring,” he said. “With those guys back, and their experience to go along with the new guys, I feel like we’re deep at running back.”
The depth along the defensive line isn’t as solid with Hillgrove losing defensive tackle Jaylan Reid.
“Since 2009, we’ve been pretty good along the defensive line,” Ironside said. “We’ve had a lot of good players come through here, and after losing Jaylan and some of the guys around him, we’re still searching for the guys who can help us solidify that spot.”
The linebacker position has also typically had at least one or two standout athletes to go with some solid role players. This season should feature more overall depth.
“We’re deep at linebacker, with a lot of parity,” Ironside said. “We have five to six guys that we can plug in there and get some good production.”
Ironside also expects the secondary to be young, with Jalen Phelps and Eric Jackson the frontrunners.
“There were a couple of other guys who stood out during spring practice and should help us out in the fall,” he said. “Phil Davis returns at inside linebacker. He’s a big leader and played well for us last year. Malik Chevry and Austin Woods looked good in the secondary, and Bingo Long played well at wide receiver.
“Ryan Burns, at inside linebacker, also looked good. We moved Ryan Moore, one of our former running backs, to defensive end, and he looked good there, too.”