Aug. 24—SHORT GAP, W.Va. — If you had told Kevin Whiteman before the 2022 season that his Falcons would host a state semifinal game, he'd had laughed at you, he said.
And yet, for the third time in school history, the Falcons made a magical run and soared into the Final Four, finishing with an 11-2 record after a 17-10 loss to Herbert Hoover.
Frankfort had the likes of Luke Robinette, Parker VanMeter, Chase Snyder and John Anderson III to provide senior leadership on both sides of the ball, but it was inexperienced across the offensive line.
With those seniors gone, Frankfort's strength in 2023 will lie up front. Leading rusher Tyrique Powell is back in the fold, and the Falcons have their sights set on returning to the playoffs for the sixth straight season and 11th time in 14 years under Whiteman.
"The kids have worked hard. The attitudes have been great," he said of how his team looked in camp. "Our timing on offense is off. Our blocking assignments aren't always where they need to be. But after two weeks, I'm pleased with what we've done."
The state semifinal appearance last year was Frankfort's third under Whiteman (2009, 2014). The 2014 team finished 13-1 and fell in the Class AA title game.
While the personnel will look different this season, not much else changes. Expect Frankfort to run the Wing-T, run it well and to play a winning brand of football.
That combination has allowed Whiteman to build a 103-44 record — just five wins shy of Greg Phillips for the school's winningest coach (108-41).
"I feel like our program just flows naturally year in and year out," Whiteman said. "You get new kids, but ultimately it's Frankfort football, and it's awesome.
"One of my hardest jobs as the coach is to get these kids to buy into the team concept. I think they're buying into it, and I think that's why Frankfort has success."
When you think of team football, it's hard to imagine a more apropos offense than the Wing-T.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and it certainly wasn't broken in 2022. The Falcons racked up 3,438 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns, averaging 7.2 yards a carry.
Frankfort rushed for 300 or more yards six times and gained 299 in another game against Spring Mills.
"Teams know that we're going to run the ball," Whiteman said, "that we're going to throw the ball 8 to 10 times a game, maybe less. Play good defense. Be physical. ... I feel like the schemes we do are advantageous for the kind of kids we get. It makes it fun to make it so we can just keep rolling with what we do.
"It does my heart so much joy when I watch us pound the ball and run it down the field and score touchdowns."
Leading the offense the past two seasons was its duel-threat quarterback Robinette, a three-time All-Area first-team selection at defensive back, who accounted for nearly 1,400 yards of offense and 15 TDs last year.
With his graduation, Frankfort will start either senior Landen Kinser (6-foot, 170 pounds) or junior Uriah Cutter (6-0, 170) under center in its opener at Moorefield tomorrow night.
"He brings a lot to the table as far as being mobile, being able to run the football," Whiteman said of Kinser. "He takes control of the huddle. He's a senior leader. He's a captain.
"Uriah comes in and sees things well," Whiteman said. "He's not as good on his feet as Landen, but he has other things that he can do that maybe Landen can't do."
Frankfort has been able to implement more spread formations in recent years thanks to Robinette's mobility, and expect the Falcons to do more of the same in 2023.
"We get in four-wide formation, and we get in some trips and we can still run a lot of our Wing-T plays out of a spread formation," Whiteman said. "That's another good thing about it, that you can spread teams out.
"There are times when we're in our base Wing-T formations and we're struggling on offense, and we go to our four-wide spread Wing-T, and we start moving the ball."
Powell (5-10, 205) is back in the backfield after rushing for 809 yards and 11 touchdowns on 82 carries last year. He'll move from halfback to fullback to garner more carries. Junior Corbin Stone (6-0, 190) is another possibility at the position.
Frankfort will use a running back by committee approach elsewhere in the backfield.
Senior Rocky Fontenot (5-8, 155) rushed for 376 yards and three touchdowns last year before breaking his leg. He's back healthy, and another senior, Cam Layton (6-1, 196), was a tight end in 2022 but is working at halfback now.
Junior Jacob Nething (5-10, 165), sophomore Carder Shanholtz (5-8, 150) and senior Josh Small (5-8, 175) will also see time at running back.
"It's nice to have that depth," Whiteman said. "During the season they're going to be banged up."
With Layton vacating the tight end role, junior Jett McCullough (6-2, 195), a Fort Hill transfer, and Stone are the likely options there. Sophomore Blake Jacobs (6-0, 165) has also been working there in camp.
"We might have a rotation on game night because we don't always have a bunch of depth, so to give kids a rest who are playing both ways we can get a rotation going," Whiteman said.
Senior Adyn Weaver (5-11, 140) and senior Cam Lynch (6-2, 185) — one of the area's best soccer players who is playing football this fall — are the likely candidates to replace Anderson, who caught 29 passes for 489 yards and three scores last year, at split end.
"He has a lot of athleticism, he's fairly quick, he's smart, and I think he can do some good things for us," Whiteman said of Lynch.
The offensive line is anchored by senior Matthew Jackson (5-11, 245), a three-year starter at center.
"His snaps, doesn't matter if we're under center, pistol, the snap is going to be there," Whiteman said. "He's very seldom going to make a mistake snapping the ball."
Junior Daniel Marley (6-2, 225) and junior Caden Whitacre (6-4, 220) return at guard, and junior Lane Lease (6-5, 215) and junior Bryer Michaels (6-3, 230) are the probable tackles.
Senior Hayden Nester (6-3, 325) and junior Brayden Shipway (6-0, 275) are also options up front.
"That experience they gained last year throughout the season and the playoffs, you can't say enough about how much that should help our team," Whiteman said. "They've gotten stronger, and it's a fairly big line.
"I wish there was a little more overall quickness up front, but we're just going to keep working every day with what we've got. We'll have some success."
Frankfort will again line up in a 4-4 formation on defense, though it will change week-to-week based on its opponent.
The Falcons are trying to replace the production of Snyder, the area's Co-Defensive Lineman of the Year, who racked up 21 tackles for loss and 10 sacks a year ago.
Nester returns with the most experience at defensive line, where he made 36 tackles (16 solo) with four for loss in '22.
Marley and Jackson are possibilities on the interior, and Lease, Layton and McCullough are the defensive ends.
At linebacker, Stone is back after getting his feet wet at the position last season. He made 54 stops (32 solo) with seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception.
Small will also see time at linebacker along with Shanholtz, Cutter and senior Alex Smith (5-6, 140).
"He's tiny but mighty," Whiteman said of Smith. "He weighs about 145 pounds, he's a tough kid. He has a nose for the football, even at his size he can do a lot of damage.
"Uriah (Cutter) is going to be one of those outside linebacker-type guys. He's physical, he's smart. He has a nose for the football and he's not intimidated."
As for Shanholtz, "He's 100 miles an hour every play. He'll run through a wall for you. It's nice to have those kinds of kids," Whiteman said.
Fontenot, Jacobs and Nething are in the mix for the two cornerback positions. Kinser can also play corner but will probably move back to the free safety position out of necessity.
Rhett Sensabaugh returns at kicker. He converted 45 of 52 extra points and 3 of 6 field goals (long 33) in 2022.
Lynch is the likely punter with his soccer background, but he's still learning the Falcons' rugby style kicking, Whiteman said. Nething is another option at punter.
Powell and Fontenot appear to be the go-to guys in the return game.
"We're really stressing the importance of special teams," Whiteman said. "We can't be making mistakes on them. We have to be on top of our game."
After opening up the season at a likely improved Moorefield team that returns 19 starters, Frankfort hosts Hampshire and Washington, is at Weir and Northern, hosts Mountain Ridge, is at Spring Mills, hosts Berkeley Springs and Grafton and is at Keyser in the Mineral Bowl to close out the year.
Whiteman will be assisted by Craig Scott, Jimmy Jones, Bob Hamilton, Bobby Shanholtz, Paul Kelly, Trey Clark, Justin Thomas, Carter Houdersheldt and Jeremy Shipway.
Frankfort has not had a losing season under Whiteman since 2015, and this group of Falcons wants to keep it that way.
"It takes a lot of work, a lot of commitment from a lot of people," Whiteman said. "I told the kids this year, it's up to them to keep that tradition rolling, to keep that playoff banner on the wall."
Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.