Losing 27 seniors? No excuses. A first-year coach? No excuses.
A band of young football players? Still, no excuses.
That’s how Heritage coach Dewayne Washington wants his Huskies to operate.
The former NFL cornerback and N.C. State standout took over the program this offseason, and after a recent Friday morning practice – just two weeks from its opener with Green Hope, Washington said there’s still work to do.
“We make no excuses,” Washington said. He emphasized the word “trusting” when he added, “We’re going to be competitive. We feel like if we can put our guys in the right position, they should be able to make some plays. That’s the key: us getting them into the right spot and them trusting that we have them in the right spot.”
Senior right tackle Jack Doyle said some of the Huskies are being coached like never before. That, along with the commitment of the rising seniors, has helped the younger players learn more about the game.
“We’re relying on players that played last year to get these freshmen up-to-date,” said Doyle, whose father, Mike, is the team’s offensive line coach. “The seniors have really stepped up this year. We got some new guys to come out. We got some good size this year.”
While Washington has only spent the summer on the field with the Huskies, he’s already recognized the probable strength of the passing game and the resiliency of a few, including sophomore quarterback Gunnar Holmberg.
He’ll come in for a graduated Blake Walters, who threw for 1,572 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. The Huskies finished 8-4 and were eliminated from the first round of 4AA state playoffs by Cap-8 mate Wakefield last season.
The Heritage receivers gathered more than 1,500 yards in 2014 but were mainly comprised of seniors.
But those coming back are prepared to pick up where they left off.
“We have a really explosive offense this year,” junior wide receiver Zachary Gemmell said. “We have a lot of good running backs, a good receiving corps, a great quarterback. Coach (Terry) Holt is bringing a lot of new passing plays.”
Washington, a former Ravenscroft assistant who spent 12 seasons in the NFL, will make his head coaching debut Aug. 21.
The work the Huskies do today, he said, will benefit the program in the future.
“These are the dog days of summer now,” Washington said. “We know Thursday night and Friday night is coming real soon. It’s really a mental thing for them to fight through it. They’re young kids, so if they get it at this age, boy, I think we’ll have something definitely in a couple years – no question about it.”
Contributors: DL Daniel Blackmon, RG Jack Doyle, WR Zachary Gemmell, QB Gunnar Holmberg, WR Jalen Pittman.
Expected team strength: Passing game.
Question mark: Youth.
Player they’ll miss the most: RB Matthew Baker. He amassed 1,438 rushing yards, adding 13 touchdowns to lead the Huskies. Baker had five straight games where he rushed for at least 200 yards.
The number: 27 – number of seniors lost to graduation
The quote: Washington on his coaching staff: “I would put those guys up against anybody else in Wake County. I really feel like I have a good staff, a good JV staff that are good teachers of the game. At the end of the day, that’s what we do.”
Game to watch: Oct. 30 at Wakefield. Both these teams enter the season looking for their identity. By the end of October, those identities should be set. These teams met in the first round of the playoffs last year, so a regular-season conference battle should be well-matched.
Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Past 5 seasons
2014: 8-4 (5-2), 4AA first round
2013: 6-6 (3-4), 4AA first round
2012: 6-6 (4-3), 4AA first round
2011: 3-8 (1-6)
2010: JV only