CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Capital’s football team got off to a slow start in the 2018 season.
“We didn’t have a field the first week, so that was bad in terms of we’re not as far along as we thought we were going to be,” Cougars coach Jon Carpenter said. “But the kids are working hard though, so hopefully we get caught up.”
Because the turf was replaced at the University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field, Capital initially had no venue to hold practice and was unable to conduct two-a-days.
If Carpenter is to be believed though, the Cougars are more than making up for lost time.
“When we’ve gotten to practice, we’ve been as good as we’ve ever been,” Carpenter said. “We’ve waited for this senior class to mature and lead and they’ve done that. A lot of them are three-year starters.”
Among the seniors is quarterback Kerry Martin Jr., who over the summer committed to West Virginia University after sorting through a lengthy list of Division I offers.
Having won the 2014 state championship, finished runner-up in 2015 and advancing to the Class AAA semifinals each of the last two seasons, there is plenty of reason for excitement on behalf of the Cougars ahead of Friday’s season opener at Johnson Central (Ky.).
“We definitely have a lot of experience with deep playoff runs,” Martin said. “Hopefully we can capitalize this year.”
Despite losing three regular season games a year ago, Capital blew past both Wheeling Park and University in the postseason, before being eliminated by state champion Martinsburg.
“The only thing that beats Capital is Capital and I tell these kids that all the time,” Carpenter said. “We’ve done a good job of doing that in big games and we need them to grow up. We’ve pushed them harder than we have in a couple years. The leadership is good and we really like that.”
With Capital scoring 34-plus points in eight of its nine wins a year ago, offense was rarely an issue. But opponents surpassed 30 points in three of the team’s four losses.
“The second level of our defense, we have to get tuned in a little bit better,” he said. “That’s probably the place we’re least experienced.”
Entering his ninth season as the Cougars’ head coach, Carpenter will rely heavily on Kalai Clark to anchor the team’s defensive line.
“He has the potential to be as good as anybody that’s played at Capital,” Carpenter said. “He’s lost a bunch of weight and gotten himself in shape and if he stays on the path he’s on now, he’ll be somebody that’s a difference maker for us.”
The Cougars will again have to contend with one of the most challenging schedules in the state. Seven of the nine in-state foes they face were Class AAA playoff teams in 2017, while Johnson Central handed Capital a season-opening loss a year ago.
“We have one of the toughest schedules in the state, but with our expectations, we have to come ready to play every week,” Martin said. “We have to play like a championship team all the time.”