FAIRMONT — Certain expectations come with senior-status in high school sports: production on the field of play, leadership off of it.
Those expectations come with good reason; through four years, those players have the most experience and physical maturity of the bunch. The four years inside the school’s program also gives seniors the most time to accrue fond memories from their days as a player.
For the North Marion High Huskies, shining a spotlight on a few of their football teams’ seniors brings about stories of progress and pride, and hopes of greater success in their final season on the turf.
Throughout the week, we’ve looked at seniors from a team which is poised to be a contender in the playoffs in Fairmont Senior, and from a team that is still trying to build up their program in East Fairmont. In this third and final installment of Senior Spotlight, we look at a team that is somewhere between the two — the North Marion Huskies.
The Huskies, coming off a 6-4 season which culminated in a first-round playoff loss to Bluefield, are returning 11 seniors, who are as familiar with each other as a group of players can be.
Many of the Huskies’ elder statesmen have been playing alongside each other since youth flag football, when they were five or six.
“I’ve been playing with basically all the same guys,” North Marion senior center/defensive tackle Logan Musgrave said. “Me and Brody [Hall]— I think he’s been my quarterback for 10 years now.”
The player-to-player familiarity also applies in the player-coach relationship.
“I probably first met Coach Hays when I was in the sixth or seventh grade,” senior quarterback Brody Hall said. “He was very involved with the junior high program, and his dad [Mike Hays] actually was our head coach then.”
When the up-and-coming core of Huskies first stepped onto the campus of North Marion as high schoolers, each adopted their own goals for their inaugural freshman campaign.
“I really just wanted to develop into the best teammate I could be,” Hall said. “To help us win in whatever way I could in whatever role I was given. Whether that was as a freshman playing special teams, or as a sophomore, I was backing up Gunner Murphy who was a great player. Really, I was just trying to help my team win however I could.”
“For my freshman year, my biggest goal was to be able to letter,” Senior defensive end/offensive tackle Kaden Hovatter said. “And of course, I didn’t start enough my freshman year. But I got to playing special teams, and I got enough quarters in to do what I needed to do.”
“As a team I know our biggest goal was to make the playoffs,” Musgrave said. “Now it’s changed drastically. We try to set that as the norm now, we want more than just making the playoffs. But personally, when I was a freshman I just wanted to start on JV because we had some great guys up front from the beginning. All us freshmen were really focused on making JV, and actually most of the guys now that start, we all played JV ball together.”
There is perhaps no more significant four-year period of growth than someone’s high school years, from a 14 year-old freshman to an 18 year-old senior, and the current crop of seniors on Daran Hays’ squad are no exception.
“I’ve gotten a lot better at fundamentals and things of that nature, just to be able to do your basics,” Hovatter said. “And I’ve gotten faster, and I’ve gotten a lot stronger just from what we’ve done in the weight room, and also just being able to accept coaching a lot better.”
“Just the way I view things on the field, the way I see plays happening,” Musgrave said. “When I’m in the game I’ve grown so much at viewing the way things look on the field, trying to be better at reading plays. Just doing my job. We’ve all kind of gained that attribute; we’ve really grown to do our job — that’s the best way to put it.”
“I have had a lot of people around me that have helped me a ton with my growth,” Hall said. “I have always been blessed with a very good line and tremendous receivers. I can really attribute a lot of my growth to them because they’ve helped me a ton, and I give them all the credit.”
This generation of Huskies has helped usher in a period of consistency and success for North Marion, the team gowenting 6-4, 7-4, and 5-5 the last three seasons, and made the playoffs twice.
The Huskies have not had a losing season since 2015, but have not won more than seven games in that timeframe either. This season, the seniors of North Marion hope to buck that trend.
“I’m really excited to kind of prove ourselves as a team,” Musgrave said. “We have a lot of great players. North Marion, for the past 10, 20 years, has not really been a great football team by any means, but I think we’re ready to take that next step and show the state that it’s our time.”
This go-round, the Huskies will have the chance to show what they’ve got in front of much larger crowds than they played in front of last year. After a junior year obfuscated by the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic initially brought, it appears that the senior’s final season will much more closely resemble what they were used to.
“Being able to play football how it’s meant to be played,” Hovatter said, when asked what he was most looking forward to this season. “With fans and everything compared to last year.”
“Probably the fans being there in all honesty,” Hall said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to have a somewhat normal season.”
The North Marion senior class has given a lot to the game of football through their young lives, some already having played for 13 years. But near the advent of what, for most of them, will be their final year playing the sport in an organized fashion, what the game has given to them comes to the forefront of their minds.
“I have met the vast majority of my best friends through football,” Hall said. “I’ve been really blessed to meet so many great people through football, whether that’s coaches, players — just the connections I’ve made. I’m just very grateful for the relationships that I’ve built. It would definitely be a lot different, I’d have met a lot less friends if I hadn’t played football.”
“These guys are my brothers,” Musgrave said. “I wake up every morning and probably the first person I talk to is a football player if it isn’t my parents. We do a lot of things together — not only the senior class, I mean I’m buddies with some of the freshmen. We’re all pretty tight.”
“I definitely wouldn’t have met nearly as many friends as I did without football,” Hovatter said. “Because this is such a tightly knit group. You spend so much time together. You go through the same struggles, you go through the same joy, you go through the same sadness. It’s a really good way to make friends that will hopefully last way beyond high school.”