Hot Springs High School goes back to the varsity level in Class C 6-man football for the 2018 season, and that presents an exciting opportunity for returning head coach Jim Lawson and the Savage Heat program.
There have been as many as 10 players out for the sport this preseason as the Savage Heat prepare for the non-divisional opener this Friday at home against a team from Canada, J.C. Charyk Hannah. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
That leads into eight divisional games, beginning with a contest Friday, Aug. 31 at White Sulphur Springs at 2:30 p.m. The top four teams from the Class C Western Division qualify for the state playoffs.
Last season, Hot Springs — which had to play 8-man football if a varsity team was fielded — played a junior varsity schedule only, winning three of its four games. In 2016, the Savage Heat won the 6-man state title.
“It’s a very weird scenario for us going JV and then back to 6-man,” Lawson said.
LAWSON HAS a fairly young team, with two seniors and two juniors leading the Savage Heat into the season.
Seniors are Tyler Carr (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) and Tyler Knudsen (6-0, 190). Carr plays tight end and defensive end, while Knudsen is a running back and linebacker.
Brandon Knudsen (5-9, 165) and Luke Waterbury (5-9, 160) are the juniors. Waterbury is a running back and linebacker.
Brandon, a linebacker on defense, is No. 1 on the depth chart at quarterback, although he is ineligible for the game against J.C. Charyk Hannah, as is his brother Tyler. They were out of town and missed most of the first several days of practice.
“We’ll be kind of shorthanded that first game,” Lawson said.
With Brandon Knudsen unavailable, freshman Jack McAllister (5-9, 155) will start at quarterback in the opener. He’s also a linebacker.
Starting at center and defensive end will be Bert DeTienne (6-1, 160).
Nick Costa (6-4, 190), an exchange student from Italy, exchanges his rugby uniform for football gear and attire. He’ll bring “rugby toughness” to the gridiron, but English-to-Italian communication will be an early challenge.
“WE CAN’T really scrimmage,” Lawson said, with the necessity to use garbage cans, dummies and coaches in what would have been vacant opposing positions. “It’s hard to get a realistic look at what’s coming at ‘em.”
The Savage Heat have decent team speed, but lacks in the experience and depth departments, according to Lawson.
“We’ve just got to stay healthy and improve every week,” the coach said. “We will have some young players, and we’ll hope for a little bit of luck.”
Practicing in smoky conditions is not as extreme as last year at this time, according to Lawson. “We have had pretty good visibility,” he said.
The first goal for Hot Springs: to make the Class C 6-man state playoffs. “That’s what you have to do if you’re going to make a run at a state title,” Lawson said.