Reaching such heights, however, will require a quick learning curve for a youthful offensive line.
“It will take the line a little time to catch up,” said head coach Stacy Carter, who enters his 10th season at the Hilltoppers’ helm with a record of 73-33. “Even though they are big strong kids, there’s nothing like experience.”
Competing for the Region 1-6A title is still a focus, said Carter — who has an overall career record of 136-48.
“I want to win the league,” he said. “That’s always your goal. I think with experience we can do that. We have to get experience. A sophomore is a sophomore. They will make good plays and bad plays. You have to take some lumps, but hopefully the older guys can overshadow some things.”
The skill positions are solid with Chris Thomas leading the way. The 5-9, 205-pound running back is drawing major-college interest, and Carter said Thomas is the best he’s ever had at that position.
“He’s faster and stronger this year,” said Carter. “He has another year of experience and that’s a big deal. He’s been in the system a long time.”
Thomas is complemented at the position by senior Malik Bowman. Braden Anderson fills the fullback role when the Hilltoppers go with their bigger packages.
Science Hill will likely use a lot of four-wide sets this year with quarterback Connor Batchelder poised for big things.
“I expect a great year,” said Carter. “He makes good decisions, and gets the ball out of his hands quickly. And he can run, too.”
When Batchelder throws, he can pick and choose from plenty of weapons. In the mix are Solomon Dunn, Joshua Santiago, Marquis Griffin, Cole Torbett, and Amare Redd.
“We feel like we are really deep at receiver,” said Carter. “We have about six guys who can play in there. Some of them are big targets and some are shorter guys. There are a lot of weapons on offense. We have to get them the ball.”
To make things work offensively, Science Hill will utilize the run-pass option package — especially while the offensive line is gaining experience.
“I think we will be a spread team that can go uptempo,” said Carter.
At the point of attack on the line is freshman center Kellen Hensley.
“He has been to every snapping camp in the country,” said Carter.
Hensley is joined by junior tackles Corbin Gerarde and Joseph Giturwa, along with senior guard Trenqual Williams and sophomore guard Lebron Riddle. Senior Matthew Burton is also in the line mix.
Defensively, the Hilltoppers will also be battling inexperience in the early going.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back, but a lot of youth, too,” said Carter. “I’m very excited about the young linebackers.”
Sophomores Justus Sutton and Cade Fleeman are part of the youth mix with Sutton already grabbing a starting role. Bowman is a big part of the linebacker group in the middle with Andrew Kanady on the outside.
One of the leaders on defense will be senior safety Nicholas Copenhaver. He is expected to be ready for Week 1 as he in the process of returning from an ACL injury suffered last year.
Also in the safety mix are Griffin and Baylor Brock. Santiago and AJ Martin are at the corners. Anderson figures into the defensive back mix along with Redd.
Anchoring the defensive line are Jaiden Miles, Jack Conkin, Alec Hillman, Ian McKinney, and Gerarde.
One area the Hilltoppers will have a big advantage over most teams is the kicking game. Junior Kade Hensley is a Power Five conferences prospect with in-game field goal range of 50 yards.
“He’s one of the best kickers in the country,” said Carter. “He finished No. 1 in the Las Vegas camp and was top 3 in California with junior-college kids and everything.”
Hensley is currently being courted by Clemson, Wake Forest and Tennessee.
“He’s going to one of them,” said Carter. “Clemson really likes him.”
Connor Rutledge is also in the kicking mix, and has been getting Division III looks.