Youthful Highland hopes to be a contender

After advancing to the six-man state championship game three years ago, Highland has fallen on hard times of late, going just 5-14 the past two seasons.But there were signs late last year that the Hornets were on the verge of turning things around. In fact, a muffed two-point kick at the end of a 43-42 loss to Aspermont in the next-to-last week was all that kept Highland from making it back to the postseason. The Hornets’ new four-team district, however, in-cludes two teams (Ira and Rotan) who are ranked in the state’s preseason top 10 in Division I. Hermleigh is also in the district again.That, plus the fact that the Hornets have just two seniors and seven freshmen on their 21-player roster, will make getting back to the playoffs a tough propo-sition once again.Coach Jeff Shelton said his goal is to have his play-ers ready by the time the Oct. 26 opener with Rotan rolls around.“We’d like to pick up where we were at the end of last year,” he said. “We’re so young. We know that anything we get as far as making it to the postseason will be gravy because we’ll need a lot of kids who have never seen a varsity game to come through for us. It’s going to take some time to get where we want to be.”Highland still has some good talent to build around, however. There are five returning all-district players — seniors Ron Covington and Garrett Stewart, jun-iors Peyton Howard and Michael Hyde and sophomore Shelby Howard.The offense gets a slightly new look as Covington has been moved from quarter-back to tailback, with junior Ethan Wilson taking over behind center. Hyde will also play tailback and both Howards will be at fullback, though Peyton is recovering from a leg injury.The center will be Stewart or sophomore Zack Cornett and the ends will be sopho-more Gaga Soedarsono and freshman Seth Wood, with juniors Kaden Nachlinger and Laramie Thompson and sophomore Kevin Box all competing at receiver.Shelby Howard and Soed-arsono will be competing with Cornett and Stewart on the defensive in Highland’s 2-3 setup, with Hyde at linebacker and Covington, Box and freshman Jacob Richburg competing for the two cornerback slots. The Hornets will use Wilson and another freshman, Eli Shel-ton, at safety. Coach Shelton, who said he expects a lot of competition for positions, has lined up a very tough non-district slate. Five of Highland’s seven opponents won at least eight games in 2011.