Helena Huskies 2020 football prediction
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor HELENA – Following the success of last year’s team is going to be a tall task for the 2020 edition of the Helena Huskies. In 2019, the Huskies won their first region championship in school history, downed rival Pelham for the first time in school history and set team records for most wins and points.
But heading into the new season, that’s in the past and gone are 28 seniors that made that success possible.
So how can this year’s group replicate that success or possibly take the next level? It starts with continuing to progress under third-year head coach Richie Busby, who now has the team used to his system, and it doesn’t hurt that the Huskies return the county’s top running back and another group of 20 seniors.
But in all, what made last year’s team so dangerous going into the season was the returning experience that was back in those 28 seniors.
This year, that experience as a whole will be lacking going into the season, but the leaders of the team and Busby feel like they can overcome the inexperience if the team doesn’t become relaxed and feel like the same success as last year will be given to them.
One position that will have to grow up in a hurry is quarterback. The Huskies are replacing three-year starter Luke Stamba, who threw for 1,316 yards and ran for 744 yards with 21 combined touchdowns last year.
Stepping in will be junior Mac Turner, who was the backup last year. With a size of 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, he’s got the build for the position to be comfortable in the pocket and can throw the deep ball well.
But, finding a target downfield is going to be difficult until he forms relationships with what will be a new group of receivers. That will be the most concerning unit on the offensive side of the ball this season.
Last year, there were seven senior receivers and now the Huskies are looking to replace all seven.
J.C. Sivley is expected to be the leader at the position this season due to his size of 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, which should benefit Turner’s big arm down the field. Jayden Jackson, J.T. Carson and a few others will be asked to step up to help give Turner at least three trustworthy targets to throw to this season.
Helping to take pressure off the passing game will be the return of starting running back Marquis Johnson, who led the county last year with 1,478 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns on 207 carries.
He will not only be leaned on in a run-heavy offense this year, but could be one of the state’s best backs if the offensive line opens up the space it did last year.
In addition to Johnson, Kobe Hughes got a lot of playing time last year and is a strong between the tackles back that the coaches and players are expecting a big season from.
Those two running backs, and the inexperienced players at quarterback and receiver, will drastically benefit from three returning starters on the offensive line.
While replacing starters Sam Regina and Chase Perry will be difficult, Seaburn Hines returns to anchor the position. Hines stands at 6-foot-2, 305 pounds and is committed to Georgia Southern University. Busby has called the senior the best offensive lineman he has ever coached for two years straight.
Joining him will be returnees Matthew Ray and Jack Blanton as leaders on the line. Those three should help newcomers like Bryson Rhodes, Dalton Griffin, Trace Barnett, Jake Julius, Skyler Stephens and Turner Morrison come along to make an impact on the offense.
If that happens, the offense should look very similar to what it did last year.
Defensively, however, the team is going to look radically different than it did a season ago with key losses at every level of the defense.
Up front, Helena will lose 166 combined tackles from Cole Pugh, Tucker Knight and Ethan Trimm last year.
Looking to replace them will be juniors Joel Logan and Noah McDonald at defensive end, and seniors Hunter Johnson and Joey Corbin on the interior portion of the line.
Those four athletes have upside and bring back some playing experience, but will have to fill the void left by the three departures.
Another player who will need to be replaced is linebacker Nathan Dunaway. A three-year player, Dunaway totaled 129 tackles as a senior and will be the biggest hit to this year’s defense.
But, the linebackers will likely be the strongest positional unit on the defense this season thanks to the return of IceBerk Cave and Lawson Smith.
Cave is getting Division I attention and returns 85 tackles, including eight for loss and six sacks from his sophomore season, while Smith is a senior who returns 90 tackles with six tackles for loss. They’ll also get help from playmakers Brock Sisson, Justin Yunke, Scout Brooks and Hunter Bright.
The secondary will also lose key players with the departure of starters LaDarrius Rice, Zach Goodwin and Jade Hildreth.
Looking to take over will be senior Damian Hines and junior Kyle Tolbert. Those two will handle the cornerback position, while Connor Pugh will be leaned on as the starting safety. In addition to those players, Jackson Snyder, Jake Cruce, Jay Preston, Peyton Woodall and Harrison Franks will look to collectively fill any gaps necessary this year.
On special teams, Helena will take another hit with the loss of Logan Maloney, who had a big senior season last year. Carson will help with some of the kicking, while Aiden Naron and Matthew Blocker will battle to help at the position.
Prediction (6-4): Not only is there unknown on Helena’s roster this season, but there is unknown about the competition as well. Depending on how quickly the Huskies’ talent comes along, they could battle for the region title once again or they could be fighting for the fourth and final playoff spot. There is a strong chance to start 2-0 and then, a two-week stretch of road games against Wetumpka and Benjamin Russell will kick off region play. If the Huskies can win those two games and start 4-0, that would be a huge success and would change the dynamic of the season. I think early in the season, it will be good to rely on the offensive line and the run game, but eventually, the quarterback and receivers will have to step up, while the defense will have to show that it can handle replacing more than 400 combined tackles. A winning record will continue a good trend for Helena considering the amount of talent replaced, but it’s up to this year’s team to determine whether it’s 6-4 or better.