Huskies ready for a breakout season
EAGLE-VAIL ” Football teams don’t make a step to the next level overnight.
It can take a few years of commitment, both among coaches and players, to see real changes in a program. Battle Mountain coach Pat Engle thinks that in what will be his fourth year at the helm, the Huskies are ready to move up to the next level.
“It’s time for our kids to step up and play,” Engle said. “We feel like as a coaching staff, we’re putting our kids in the right spot. After four years, practice seems to run a little smoother and older kids are teaching younger kids.”
And unlike in years’ past, there are more of the older kids teaching.
“We have about 20 seniors on the team,” Engle said. “I’m not sure I’ve coached that many in my three previous years.”
The Huskies, who lost five seniors, retain the core of their squad and pick up several key players.
Quarterback Bart Cuomo is back behind center after sitting out the second half of last year with a broken arm.
“We have a lot of confidence we want to bring into this season,” Cuomo said.
In Cuomo’s absence last year, the Huskies experimented with several offensive spreads, but this year they know exactly what they’ll be doing.
“I’ve tried to run from who I am as a football coach,” said Engle, who grew up playing football in Ohio under coaches who learned from legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. “But what I want to do is hit you in the mouth and knock you off the ball. If we can gain three or four yards a play, that’s all it takes.
“That may be the most boring game you’ll watch, but Ohio State won a championship in 2002 playing boring football. That’s the recipe for success in the Western Slope, running the ball 80 percent of the time and passing 20 percent of the time. We’re playing more traditional, tight-end oriented football, under the center and running out of the I (formation).”
Leading the way for the Huskies’ running game will be fullbacks Levi Horn and Elan Jones. Ryan Hedrick, along with Aaron Wilcox and Chad Wilkison comprise the tailbacks.
“Ryan and Aaron are two of the faster kids we have,” Engle said. “Ryan has separated himself from the other kids and is the No. 1 running back. We have two capable kids who can step in and run the football.”
Hedrick is excited to enter the season knowing what offense the Huskies will run.
“It’s nice to have (an offense) we actually know,” Hedrick said. “It’s going to help a lot coming out of the blocks knowing what we are doing right away.”
Engle has Todd Walker and Travis Roach slated to start as wide receivers, with Ascher Robbins, Travis Landauer and Andrew Martinez looking to get time as well.
The foundation for any good running game is the offensive line, and Engle thinks his lineman are up to the task.
“Our line is the strong point of our team,” Engle said. “All the kids are light on their feet. We hope all their hard work running hills and lifting weights will pay off.”
Billy Shue will center the line, with Mitch Gray and Kristen Gannon as the guards. Freddy Wickes and Lucas Brown will be the tackles, while George Brown and several others will play tight end.
With several able replacements at each position, the Huskies bring the field something they’ve lacked in the past.
“We’re starting to develop that dirty word we’ve never had before ” depth,” Engle said. “We have eight defensive starters. We don’t have eight kids going both ways anymore. We have three now. (In a few games) we’ll maybe have one kid going both ways. Normally we come out good for the first few games and we got worn out.”
Jamie Hijmans, a four-year starter, is happy about playing just inside linebacker this year.
“I elected to be a one-way starter instead of a two-way starter, which will help a lot,” Hijmans said. “Coming out fresh on the field for that particular position means you can bring that much more to the table versus being tired all the time.”
Horn is slated as the other inside linebacker, while Miah King and Bart Clark will man the outside of Engle’s 3-4 defense. Punky Carlos anchors the defense at nose tackle, with Jones and Gray at his sides.
“Our linebacker core is great this year, and our defensive and offensive lines are really good,” Carlos said. “We are way beefier than we were last year.”
At the cornerback spots are Roach and Martinez. Walker, Wilkison Landauer and Andreas Apostol will be the safeties.
Derek Byron and Jeremy Windham will handle the kicking duties for Battle Mountain.
Engle hopes his more experienced squad will be stingy on defense.
“We need to give up two scores a game to be successful,” Engle said. “Last year teams embarrassed us. At the same time, we were complicit in that. We have to have a short-term memory, and rather than feel sorry for ourselves (when opponents score), we need to get ticked.”
For the players who have been around since Engle arrived, the change in play and attitude are apparent.
“The whole team is going to the next level,” Hijmans said. “Instead of just being a football team that comes out, we’re going to come out to compete and play real football.”
Battle Mountain opens against Aspen Saturday at Phelan Field with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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