BRISTOL, Va. — It was a historic season at John Battle last year.
A program that hadn’t had a winning season in 10 years not only loaded up the W side of the ledger — finishing 12-2 — the Trojans also advanced all the way to the VHSL Group A, Division 2 state semifinals.
“That was a very special season,” said Battle coach Steve Wright. “The community really came together and got behind us.
“We had a ton of them go with us to Essex and that wasn’t an easy trip.”
Battle, like other Southwest Virginia schools, enters the season with a degree of uncertainty as a result of the VHSL’s new alignment and classifications.
“For us I don’t think things will change much,” Wright said. “Once we get into the playoffs, everything is really about the same.
“For an old-timer like me, though, I hate that there’s less emphasis on winning the district. I always thought that was a special deal.”
While the Trojans were hit hard by graduation, plenty of fuel remains in the tank as they venture into the newly formed Mountain District.
“We have high expectations again this season,” Wright added. “Our expectations are for the kids to work hard, do the right things on and off the field and play as a team. If they work hard to reach those expectations then everything else will take care of itself.”
Battle went undefeated in the old Clinch Mountain District and is looking to do the same again this year against the likes of Union, Wise Central, Gate City and Lee.
“Every team in the district appears to be better, so we’ll have our work cut out for us,” Wright said.
The Trojans are solid at the skill positions and have six starters returning on each side of the ball.
Carter Harlow, a 5-foot-11, 154- pound speedster, returns at halfback with fellow senior Matthew Chapman providing the inside power game at fullback.
Senior Sam Martin, a three- year starter, anchors the offensive line at center. Justus Blaylock, Harlow and Justin Stoots are the three starting linebackers.
“We’ll miss those great seniors,” Wright said. “But in high school football when some leave, some new ones come through the door. You just take the new ones and work hard with them and see what you can come up with.”
What Wright and his staff are hoping is that what was learned from last year’s success carries over into this season.
“What happened last year just reinforced the lessons we were trying to teach,” Wright said. “Our emphasis is always to work hard and do the right things.
“It’s still about all the relationships you develop. That’s really what coaching is all about.”