CHARLOTTESVILLE — The players may not have known the new coach, but the new coach already knew Eastern Hancock.
Pat Echeverria is back at the place where he began his head football coaching career.
From 2011-13, Echeverria went 23-14, including a 14-1 state runner-up season in 2013. He spent five seasons at Zionsville, winning three sectionals, and the last three seasons at Pike.
“I’ve been here before so I have a good lay of the land,” Echeverria said. “This is all new to the kids. I have a couple of coaches that were with me before and that’s been helpful. The community and the kids have been unbelievably welcoming, supportive, and buying in to what we’re doing. It’s been a joy.”
It’s another change and transition for the players. Echeverria is the program’s third coach in the last three seasons.
“We’ve been here four years and we’ve had three different playbooks, that’s been the hardest part to adjust to,” senior Kain Sotelo said.
Sotelo is a rarity on the 2022 roster. He’s carried the ball.
The Royals graduated nearly all the players that threw, caught and ran the football.
Houston Swan, a four-year starter at quarterback, left as the program’s all-time passing leader. He’s now at Culver-Stockton College, an NAIA school in Missouri. Cole Rainbolt graduated as the team’s all-time leading receiver. He is playing for Indiana Wesleyan.
Wide receiver Landon O’Neal, among the program’s all-time pass-catching leaders, has graduated, too.
Zach Arnold and Chase Riggs, who along with Rainbolt, handled a lot of the rushing were also part of last season’s senior class.
Echeverria is hopeful a couple of things will help offset the lack of experience at skill positions.
He has a veteran defense and an experienced offensive line.
Nose tackle Logan Hoskins, safety Sotelo, and middle linebacker Robert Tincher are three key senior defenders.
Sotelo returns as the team’s leading tackler from 2021. Hoskins and Tincher were also in the top five. Junior Cameron Volz, a defensive back, was third.
Hoskins is one of four returnees on the offensive line. He’ll play tackle with Graham Hicks. Jacob Wickard is at center and Brayden Hill will be one of the guards. Tyler Fields is the newcomer on the front line.
“We’ve got some really talented kids on this team. I’m excited,” Echeverria said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have experience playing up front and a lot of guys that have experience playing defense, but we don’t have a lot of yards of total offense returning.”
Echeverria said the quarterback, running back and receivers may lack experience, but they don’t lack talent.
“We don’t have a lot of yard returning, but I think we have a lot of talented guys that were just waiting behind a really, really good class to show what they can do with the ball,” he said. “I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with what they see.”
Like Swan did in 2018, Elijah Edon goes from junior high quarterback to starting high school quarterback.
Senior Peyton Speer will be one of the running backs. Volz, Brayden Sullivan and Caiden Willis are part of the receiving group with tight end Kayden Ruble. Sotelo will play on offense at both quarterback and running back.
“We don’t have one guy that ‘I have to get this guy the ball,’” Echeverria said. “We have a plethora of skill kids that could be real good.”
Both Sotelo and Sullivan had eight receptions each last season. Sullivan had 179 receiving yards and 90 kick-return yards. Sotelo had eight catches for 95 yards.
The Royals were 5-5 last year. They’ll open the season on Friday, at home, against Alexandria.
“We’re loving the (new) coaches,” Tincher said. “I think we’ll be good all around. Everyone is doubting us, but I think we’re going to show them.”