LOGAN — Forgive Logan head coach Gary Mullins if he seems really excited for Thursday’s opener against rival Man.
Given how the 2021 season ended and what Mullins returns to the team for 2022, though, his excitement is warranted.
The Wildcats are coming off a 2021 season in which they finished 6-4 and missed the Class AA playoffs by one spot. In 2022, Mullins returns a wealth of talent and experience to various levels — along with the hunger of barely missing the playoffs last season — while adding a talented quarterback in senior Jaxon Cogar.
It is a combination that has Mullins and Logan setting goals to be one of West Virginia’s top Class AA teams.
“It’s been a great summer so we look forward to trying to translate that over to real games,” Mullins said. “We’ve got great numbers and great attitude. Guys are working really hard and they seem hungry to get toward the goals we’ve set for each other.”
All eyes will be on the offense to take the next step to get the team into talks of one of the best in Class AA.
Cogar transferred to Logan from WestSide in November and will replace graduated quarterback Jordan Hayes, who led the Cardinal Conference in passing in 2021.
The expectation is that Cogar could do the same, inheriting a group of receivers that is arguably as solid as any corps in West Virginia.
The leader of that receiving group is do-it-all talent Aiden Slack, whom Mullins said is one of West Virginia’s top players.
“I feel like Aiden Slack is the best kept secret in West Virginia, and I really don’t know how he’s a secret at this point,” Mullins said. “He’s started every game he’s played and I think he’s the best WR, best safety and best kicker in southern West Virginia. There’s nothing he can’t do.”
The 6-foot-3 Slack headlines a receiving group that is lengthy and experienced. Joining Slack out wide are Garrett Williamson, Jake Ramey and Drew Barry. Mullins also tabbed Julius Clancy as a key cog to stretching the field.
“He’s absolutely dynamic,” Mullins said. “He can hit the long ball for us.”
For that long ball to develop, Cogar will need time in the pocket, which Mullins feels will be one of his team’s biggest improvements from 2021.
Logan’s offensive line returns experience in 6-2, 370-pound mammoth Cameron Allred and Caden Baisden, along with bruiser Bryce Davis who sees time at both offensive line and H-back, depending on the situation. Others in the mix include Bryce Lester, Levi Kazee, Caden Noe, Landon Moore and Dave Ellis.
“We’ve got a lot of depth there as far as guys coming in there to play,” Mullins said.
Numbers aren’t the only strong point of the offensive line, either.
“This is one of the strongest groups we’ve had,” Mullins said. “We won a lot of lineman challenges this summer, which never happens at Logan, so we’re hoping that translates to a positive year. And, as of right now, none of our offensive linemen start on the defensive side of the ball, so that’s a huge help for us that could really be big going forward.”
As the offense makes its progression, Mullins said Logan will be leaning on its defense, which was a strong point last season and returns several starters from the 2021 team that allowed just 19.7 points per game.
“Defensively, we feel like we’ll be even better because we return quite a few guys — seven or eight starters, or guys who played enough to be considered a starter,” Mullins said. “We’re expecting big things on that side of the ball.”
Allred and Brennan Goff each return as sizable defensive tackles while Ryan Roberts and Connor Mullins will be on the edge of the defensive line.
Bryce Davis, who was a first team All-Cardinal Conference performer last season, returns to lead the linebackers for the Wildcats. Ellis, Cogar and Berry will join Braydon Chambers, Shelton Stone and Quentin Goodman as those all rotating in at the Wildcats’ second level.
The secondary will feature much of the experience seen at the wide receiver position with Slack again leading the way at his safety spot.
“If he stays healthy, he’ll have started 30 games at safety,” Mullins said.
Williamson also will take a spot in the secondary while players like Ramey, Maliki Gardner and Gabe Workman also will be heavy in the rotation on the back end of the defense.
Mullins feels that it won’t take much of a leap from 2021 for the Wildcats to be a major player in the 2022 landscape in Class AA.
During the 6-4 season, two of the losses were games decided by one possession or less — a 14-12 loss to Poca and a 20-14 loss to Liberty-Raleigh. Poca ended up being a Class AA state semifinalist and defeated Liberty in the first round of the Class AA playoffs.
Other losses were to Herbert Hoover and Winfield, which showed the Wildcats what they needed to improve.
“We felt like we should’ve been 8-2,” Mullins said. “In the two games we lost, we didn’t match up and didn’t play well physically. That’s something we talked about and we really are looking to improve our physicality.”
Logan starts the season on Thursday with its rivalry matchup against Man. It starts an early-season stretch in which the Wildcats play three of their first four games at home.