Dewayne Washington learned a lot his first year as a head coach.
A former NFL cornerback, he paid especially close attention to learning the ins and outs of a football offense.
Though N&O No. 16 Heritage will have some major players on that side of the ball this season, Washington said his Huskies still have a lot to prove in the Cap-8 Conference.
“I think health for us is key,” he said. “We’re not as large as some of those other schools. It really does come down to the strategy and the execution you put in front of the team. We’re not there. Until we prove year in and year out, I’d say we’re not at their level just yet.”
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But plenty of positives lie before the young Heritage program this season.
The Huskies will return quarterback Gunnar Holmberg, a rising junior who earlier this summer became the first Duke football commit of the 2018 class. He led the team with 1,772 passing yards and 18 touchdowns, and Washington said the 6-foot-3 quarterback has improved mentally.
Heritage will also welcome rising junior running back Ricky Person Jr., a standout transfer from Franklinton.
“We’re fortunate to get him,” Washington said of the 6-2, four-star (Rivals) rusher. “He just kind of fell in our laps. He was in a situation where he wanted a change. We got him not too long ago, and we’ll take our time. He’s a big-time player.”
Heritage finished 5-7 overall and 3-4 in the Cap-8 last season. It is bracing for another tough conference season.
Washington said he’s more comfortable with the reigns as he enters his second year.
The biggest thing he learned was the true value of strength and conditioning. He knew it was vital and that he had to get the players more involved in strength training once he saw some of the physical breakdowns on the field last year.
“We’re not the biggest team, so we have to be smart about what we’re doing, and we have to be strong,” Washington said. “That’s something we’re trying to emphasize with our players.”
What’s the impression of Holmberg committing to Duke?
One benefit of such an early commitment is the player’s ability to focus on his high school season.
“He had a couple of setbacks (last season), but I think, if anything, he’s mentally stronger,” Washington said of his starting QB. “You look at his stature, physically, it doesn’t look like he got much stronger, but mentally he’s gotten so much better.”
Washington also emphasized his job as a head coach to a major college commit is to prepare him to play at the college level. His goal is to have Holmberg compete for playing time with the Blue Devils when the time comes, not just become an automatic redshirt.
“We’re trying to push him,” Washington said.
What makes Person such a threat?
At 6-2 and 205 pounds, Person’s physical prowess is clear.
Washington said the new addition is ready for the 4A level; Franklinton is a 2A school. Heritage racked up 1,004 rushing yards split between 11 backs.
“If you just look at his stature, he takes the pounding that running backs have to take,” Washington said. “He’s a really explosive kid; smart, humble kid. You can pair him with Gunnar and our wideouts we have.”
Heritage will return Zach Gemmell, Jalen Pittman and Thayer Thomas to the receiving corps, and Devin Grant is also expected to be a factor among that group.
Gemmell led the Huskies with 743 receiving yards last year.
What will the defensive side of the ball look like?
Heritage’s defense recorded two interceptions last season, including one from rising junior David Blackmond.
“David Blackmond can cover well,” Washington said. “We have a couple of safeties who can make some plays. Hopefully we can make some more turnovers; that’s what we’ve been preaching.”
Washington’s objective is to get his offense back on the field as soon as possible.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
More on the Huskies
Last year: 5-7 (3-4 Cap-8 4A), first round 4AA playoffs
Preseason N&O rank: No. 16
Contributors: Gunnar Holmberg (Jr., QB), Ricky Person Jr. (Jr., RB), Jalen Pittman (Sr., WR/CB), Joe Kane (Jr., DE/TE), Drake Thomas (So., OLB/MLB)
The number: 1 – Road game Heritage won last season. The Huskies defeated Cap-8 mate Sanderson on Oct. 1.
The quote: “We take a three-part approach: offense, defense and special teams. We have to win all three. We have to win two to have a good chance at winning a game.” – Heritage coach Dewayne Washington
Aug. 19 at Green Hope, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Rolesville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 vs. Knightdale, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Jordan, 6 p.m.
Sept. 16 BYE
Sept. 23* at Leesville Road, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30* vs. Sanderson, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7* at Enloe, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14* vs. Wake Forest, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21* at Millbrook, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28* vs. Wakefield, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4* at Broughton, 7 p.m.