By Marty Gordon
MJ Hunter is one of those student-athletes who plays multiple sports. He recently finished basketball and went directly to the football field.
In 2019, Hunter (5-9, 170) had 116 carries for 619 yards rushing with eight touchdowns. He also passed for 773 yards with 13 touchdowns and was fifth in the River Ridge District in rushing.
Now, he will lead a Blue Demon team that finished 5-6 and returns four starters on offense and six on defense. The team will have to replace all five offensive linemen, but that shouldn’t be a problem with 14 players over 200 pounds. Head coach Alex Wilkens (7-22 in four seasons at CHS) also has a lot of talent from an undefeated junior varsity team that included some beef from the trenches.
Wilkens is proud of how his team has responded during the COVID-19 restrictions. “It has given us more time to get better,” he said. On the other hand, Wilkens said, his team has had less time to break in new starters and to iron out the wrinkles.
“We expect a competitive group that plays hard every rep. Our schedule is tough, but that’s every year. We have to finish games and play for 48 minutes to win any game. We’ll be ready,” Wilkens said.
Senior Caleb Henley returns after suffering a season-ending knee injury halfway through the 2019 season. Before going down, he had 16 catches for 300 yards.
On the ground, the team will return Drew Lloyd (6-2, 215) and Kenyon Johnson-Buchannon (6-0, 215), Both of whom are both expected to lead the rushing attack after losing tailback Matson Stanley (181 carries, 1,063 yards with 10 touchdowns). Also, running back Stephan Myrthil (5-8, 177) is expected to show some of the talent he flashed on the junior varsity squad.
On the defensive side of the ball, Henley had three interceptions before suffering the injury and will be counted on this season in a secondary that had problems against the pass.
Hunter will also play a role for the defense after picking off two passes and typically covering the opponent’s top receiver on any given night.
Jaxson Clarke (6-1, 172) and Travis Altizer (5-7, 147) will also have to step up in the defensive backfield to shut down offenses. Johnson-Buchannon, Tryrique Taylor (6-2, 230) and Aiden LaComa (6-1, 235) should help with that as they combined for seven sacks, 12 quarterback hurries and four turnovers last season. LaComa will be late to the game as he is still participating in the school’s extended wrestling season.
Youngsters like Casey Graham (5-11, 180) could play a sleeper role for the Blue Demons.
The key is whether Wilkens can keep building on the past that includes a successful middle-school program.
Christiansburg will host Salem in the home opener on February 26.