Photo: A healthy Isaiah Valentine would be a big plus for the Shady Spring Tigers. Valentine had 112 touchdowns last fall for the Tigers.  Valentine has scored 21 TDs in his career, which has been marred by injuries.

By Dave Morrison

SHADY SPRING – Defense was the name of the game at Shady Spring last season, as the Tigers put up some astounding numbers.

The tenacious Tigers put together a dominating display defensively, decisive and deadly.

Consider the numbers.

Shady Spring limited opponents to 9.4 points per game, and only once all season did the Tigers give up 20 points, and that was in a 27-20 win at Wyoming East. The Tigers had four shutouts in the regular season, three in the first four games.

The Tigers held opponents to a measly 767 yards rushing per game, and a miniscule 2.8 yards per carry during its 9-1 regular season run to the postseason.

The Tigers were nearly as stingy through the air, allowing just 978 yards passing and the ballhawking Tigers added 19 interceptions.

Only one rusher gained over 100 yards in the regular season against Shady Spring, Liberty’s Logan Doddrill, who was aided by an 80-yard touchdown run.

It wasn’t until the postseason that a rusher truly found success, Mingo Central quarterback Daylin Goad, who had 25 carries for 178 yards and two touchdowns. The Tigers did stymie record-setting receiver Drew Hatfield. The Moss Award winner finished the season with 124 receptions for 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns. He had three catches for 58 yards against the Tigers. He averaged 11 catches fo 164.7 yards in the Miners other 11 games.

All these numbers helped the Tigers earn a first team defensive back (hybrid linebacker) in Haven Chapman and a second-team all-stater in defensive back Jadon Hershberger, who had six interceptions.

Now the trick will be to replace some key losses on the defense, the biggest being Chapman. He was more or less a linebacker over the most part of his career at Shady Spring.

Hershberger returns to anchor the defensive backs.

But what about the linebackers, which includes senior Isaac Harvey?

Well, coach Vince Culicerto, who gives his brother Phil Culicerto a ton of credit for the success of the defense, thinks he has an answer.

“Look, you can’t replace a player like a Haven Chapman, he was a phenomenal player for us on defense, a first-team all-stater, and those players just don’t come along very often,” Culicerto said.

“Bryson Pinardo and Caleb Whittaker played a ton for us last year. In some respects they were just learning (the varsity) ropes. They were overshadowed a little by Haven and Harvey at times but they did some good things. They are a tandem who by their senior year could be special.”

Playing on a stellar stopper unit like Shady had last year will be pivotal for the Tigers for young guys like Pinardo and Whittaker.

Another duo to watch on the defensive side is rising sophomores James Sellards and Adam Richmond.

Both have the ability to step right into the lineup.

“They played a ton of JV football for us and showed a lot of promise,” Culicerto said.

Another all-stater that will need replaced is kicker Erick Bevil, one of the few state athletes to earn the honor of being first team all-state (soccer/football) in seasons that run concurrently.

Again the question may have been answered by Will Harmon. He had a taste last season, has been going to camps and getting his kicking in wherever he happens to be.

Culicerto recalled getting clips of Harmon and his dad kicking from time to time in the off season before the pandemic set in and the rising sophomore spent time in the past (the pre-pandemic era) at kicking camps.

Isaac Valentine returns and looks to be healthy really for the first time in his career and that would be a big plus. He is one of the better athletes under area Friday Night Lights. Valentine rushed for 334 yards and five touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 390 yards and five touchdowns. Last fall he scored 12 touchdowns. The senior has scored 21 total TDs in his career with 859 yards rushing and 654 yards receiving.

One battle to watch is who will replace Drew Clark at quarterback. Last fall Clark threw for 1,337 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 496 yards and eight touchdowns. More importantly he did not turn the ball over. The Tigers did not commit a fumble and Clark cut down on his interceptions, going from 10 in 2018 to five in 2019.

Jared Lilly, a rising senior, will get the first shot in fall camp after backing up Clark last fall.