Gary Mullins was only about 11 but can recall watching the 1990 Logan football team, one of the greatest in the history of the program.
“I remember watching that team,” said Mullins, who’s now back for his second stint as coach of the Wildcats. “That’s the best team I’ve ever seen here. They had a lot of great players — Jeff Miller, Eric Wagner at quarterback, Brian Johnson at running back. That team was awesome.”
Those 1990 Wildcats went 9-1 in the regular season and earned the school’s first playoff berth, which ended with a 14-13 upset loss to Martinsburg in the first round. They were also one of just two teams to secure a home playoff game in the history of a Logan program that began in 1921.
Well, with one more victory Friday night at Liberty Raleigh, this year’s Wildcats can match the 4-0 start of that 1990 squad, which would equal the best record to begin a season since Logan went 5-0 in 1967.
It’s all sort of taken Mullins by surprise as 3-0 Logan has ascended to 10th in the first set of Class AA playoff ratings released Tuesday. After all, the Wildcats were a combined 3-13 in the two seasons prior to Mullins returning as head coach to a program he guided from 2004-16.
“We felt like we had a good group of kids,” Mullins said, “and we got some new kids out. Some kids bought into moving to the offensive line for us — normally they had played skill positions. But when they started buying into that and came to practice and we saw how hard they were working, we thought we’d be pretty good. I didn’t know we’d be this good this fast. We haven’t put together a complete game yet, but we feel like we’ve got [potential] if we’re doing the right things and working every day.”
Senior quarterback Jordan Hayes, a third-year starter, has thrown for 719 yards and eight touchdowns in three games, with his top targets being Carson Kirk (11 catches, 291 yards, four TDs), versatile Aiden Slack (16 catches, 250 yards, three TDs) and Garrett Williamson (six catches, 92 yards, one TD).
Mullins thinks the Wildcats can now match up athlete for athlete with opponents since some of the school’s top basketball and baseball players have also put football on their resume — players like Dawson Maynard (Class AA baseball captain), Kirk, Slack, Williamson and running back Kolton Goldie.
“I feel like this is my best wide receiver corps I’ve ever had, one though five,” Mullins said. “All of those guys have big-play potential, and they’re unselfish. They want to win and block for each other. It’s a great situation so far, and I’m excited to be part of it. It makes practice a lot of fun.”
Of course, the Wildcats have been known to toss the ball around the past few years. In fact, even when they went 1-9 in 2019, Hayes threw for 2,090 yards and 16 touchdowns, and last year, when Logan was 2-4, Hayes passed for 1,187 yards and nine TDs in just six games.
Mullins said the biggest differences in the program since he stepped away five years ago have been the development of the offensive line, enabling the Wildcats to average 126 yards per game on the ground, and a vast improvement on defense.
Mullins lauded his offensive line, which consists of seniors Noah McNeely, Chance Maynard and Tristan Burgess and juniors Bryce Davis and Caden Baisden. They have helped make the Wildcats more balanced on offense instead of just a pass-happy attack.
“In the past,” Mullins said, “[opponents] would sit back in coverage and we couldn’t run the ball against a five-man box. Now we make them pay if they’re light in the box against us.”
As for the defensive metamorphosis, consider that two years ago, Logan allowed a whopping 50.2 points per game. That’s been shaved down to 16 this season.
“Even last year against winning teams,” Mullins said, “we were still giving up [points] in the 30s. So we told them early on that’s just not good enough. We’re not going to beat anybody any good giving up 30 points every time we go out there. We’ve got some great senior leaders on the defensive side of the ball, guys who really play hard and get after each other in practice. On Friday nights, they go out and play with great effort, and that’s what’s impressed me the first three games.”
Senior defensive end Landon Adkins (6-foot-2, 225 pounds), one of the school’s basketball players but now a college prospect in football, has been one of the ringleaders of the defense and has been called “an absolute animal” by Mullins.
The evidence is there for the Logan defense so far, which has played lights-out in the first three quarters before closing the deal:
- The Wildcats led county rival Man 21-0 in their opener until the Hillbillies scored twice in the final 2:07 with the help of an onside-kick recovery to make the final 21-14. Man had beaten Logan by a combined 106-14 score the two previous meetings.
- Logan raced to a 40-0 lead against Sissonville, the No. 1 playoff seed in AA last year, before giving up two scores in the final 5:49 and settling for a 40-14 win. The Indians had bested the Wildcats five times in a row dating back to 2008.
- Last week against Wayne, a team the Wildcats hadn’t beaten since 1943 in their intermittent series, Logan led 19-0 at halftime and 27-8 late in the third quarter before taking a 27-20 victory. The Pioneers had beaten Logan 11 straight games since 2002.
Logan has long been recognized as a basketball and baseball power in West Virginia, and Mullins would like to see the football program reach that level. Some targets include the 7-0 start of the 1922 team and earning a home playoff game, which only the 1990 and 2011 teams have done.
“Everybody knows this town expects a winner no matter what you’re playing,” Mullins said. “We feel like it’s not my program, it’s our program. A lot of coaches I learned from growing up, we feel like that’s a program that works. Playing hard, being in shape and doing things the right way on and off the field. Try to play the best game every time you go out there. We tried to instill that in this group, and everybody just ran with it.”