New season means new starting line-up for Husky football

Scott Swanson

Head Football Coach Dustin Nichol and his players were to open their 2015 season Friday night, Sept. 4, on a brand-new, artificial-turf home field, but that big day will come on Sept. 18, thanks to weather delays.

Instead, the Huskies will be on the road at Crook County Friday.

But maybe that’s a fitting start for this year’s Sweet Home team. For the most part, the Huskies are brand new from the team that played on the old grass turf last year.

“We’re pretty young,” Nichol said last week. “We have three of our main starters (from 2014) back in Brandon Keenon, Justin Tow and Gavin Baskin, but otherwise, our offense is completely new.”

The Huskies, who finished their 2014 season in a playoff loss at Phoenix, lost 16 seniors to graduation, including All-State First-Team defensive back Hunter Jutte and third-teamer Brycen Mitten from a team that finished second in the league and 7-3 on the season.

On the roster this year are 11 seniors and 10 juniors, joined by eight sophomores and 26 freshmen. Despite the loss of experience, Nichol said, the Huskies have talent.

“I think our first group on offense and defense that we put out there are pretty gifted,” he said. “They were in the rotation last year. As far as experience goes, the juniors weren’t starters but they were role players.”

The defense has more returnees, particularly on the line. Gone are Shawn Worthen and Ryan J. Adams, who were anchors on last year’s line. But George Rayborn returns at defensive tackle, along with Brandon Keenon at linebacker and a host of last year’s back-ups.

“We had a good rotation going through there last year,” Nichol said.

So the reality is that the Huskies are a work in progress.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for our young people,” he said. “Everybody’s going to get to play a lot. We’re asking everybody to learn two positions on both sides of the ball. We’ll have Plan A and Plan B, and hope we don’t have to go to Plan C.”

Back to lead the offense are Tow and Keenon, both seniors, at quarterback and running back respectively.

As a junior, Tow, 6-0, 190, completed 49 of 122 passing attempts for 869 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also had 12 interceptions.

“He’s a year older and has one year more of experience,” Nichol said. “I expect more leadership and better performance this year. I want him to continue to do good things he did last year and build on those.”

Keenon (6-0, 180), was unquestionably the Huskies’ main motor last year, amassing 1446 yards on 273 carries for a 5.3-yard average and 17 touchdowns, finishing as an all-league first-team pick at running back.

Nichol said the offense this year will seek to take pressure off their tailback.

“People are thinking that to beat Sweet Home, all we have to do is stop Brandon Keenon. We have to come up with other threats on offense.

“We plan on starting with what we know on offense, then try to work in more misdirection, more options. Get more people carrying the football, whether that’s the quarterback or the fullback or the slot. We’re figuring things out.”

Although last year’s receiving corps, which was largely Jutte and Ryan R. Adams, is gone, Keenon can catch the ball out of the backfield and the Huskies have talent coming in at receiver in senior Jesus Patricio, who missed all of last season with an injury, and juniors Dillon Stutzman (5-6, 145), Daniel Virtue (5-11, 170) and Devin Stafford (5-10, 175), all of whom could contribute downfield.

Also expected to provide some punch on offense are seniors George Rayborn (5-10, 210) and Garrison Whitfield (6-0, 200). Senior Ty Plebuch (6-6, 175) is expected to play tight end, but Virtue and Stafford may also switch to the end of the line.

“They’re doing a good job at fullback,” Nichol said. “George is quick and Garrison can bring a load.”

Junior Keanu Aiona (5-7, 160) will provide backup for Keenon.

“He’s doing a great job at tailback and swingback,” Nichol said.

The offensive line has taken one of the biggest hits from graduation, with four all-leaguers – Mitten, center Chris Melcher, guard Bret Blachly and tackle Patrick Bell graduating, and senior Eric Whitlow, also an all-league selection, relegated to sideline duties this season with an injury.

However, juniors Josh Rice (5-9, 230) and Kelton Gaskey (6-4, 245) will provide some beef at right tackle and veteran Gavin Bascom (6-0, 220), the only starter back from last year on the line, will play at left.

Senior Charley Guerrero (5-9, 170) who, Nichol said, is only in his second year in high school football, and junior Jake Porter (6-0, 165) are also showing promise on the line, along with senior Desmond Ely (5-9, 180), who is stepping in at center and “doing a great job.”

A “pleasant surprise” has been senior Joel Holman, one of the biggest on the Husky roster at 6-3, 265, who has stepped up his game.

“He’s a moose. He’s huge,” Nichol said.

Patricio will handle punting and kicking duties going into the season, he said.

On defense, Ely and Whitfield, both of whom were injured last year, are looking promising at the depleted linebacker spots, where all-leaguers Cole Ashcraft and Kevin Seiber have departed to graduation. Keenon was a first-teamer at that spot as well in 2014.

“We have some experience, but we were senior-oriented for sure,” Nichol said.

With the departure of Ryan R. Adams, Jutte and Eric Flierl from last year’s defensive secondary, Plebuch, Stafford, Patricio and Stutzman will be filling the vacancies.

Nichol said the biggest challenge he sees the Huskies facing will be conditioning.

“From start to finish, we have a lot of people going both ways and some going three,” he said. “We’ve been conditioning to excess. They know they’re going to have to work harder than other teams if they don’t want to fall short in the fourth quarter. I explained the situation to them and they’re buying into it.”

Sweet Home opens on the road at Crook County Friday, after a sudden schedule change forced by weather delays in laying the new track at Husky Stadium.

That starts a season that sees the Huskies also take on North Valley at home and Estacada on the road before opening their league schedule at home against Sisters on Sept. 25.

The Outlaws are one of Nichol’s picks for front-runner in the league. Even though Sisters barely made the playoffs last year, with a late-season surge, they took eventual champion Gladstone to overtime before losing their last game.

“Sisters was young,” he said. “I think they only graduated one or two people.”

He also expects Elmira, which the Huskies will play on the road after barely beating the Falcons twice at home last season, the second time in a play-in game, to be tough. The Falcons have plenty of speed, as indicated by their district track titles over the past two years.

Then there’s Cottage Grove, which had one senior last year, Nichol said.

“With that fun-and-gun offense, they’re never out of it,” he said. “Unless it’s 48-0 with two minutes left, I’m not going to sleep easy.”

Nichol said his team has responded well to the challenges.

“These guys have a great attitude,” he said. “Each team has its own personality and these guys are laid-back but competitive. They’re fun to be around. Not a lot of drama.

“I think we have every opportunity to compete with any of these teams as long as our legs and injuries don’t catch up with us.

Sweet Home Varsity Football Roster

No.Year Name Height Weight Position

1 11 Keanu Aiona 5’7 160 RB/LB

3 11 Daniel Virtue 5’11 170 QB/S/WR

4 10 Justin Kurtz 5’7 135 WR/DB

5 11 Devin Stafford 5’10 175 WR/DB

7 12 Jesus Patricio 5’11 170 WR/DB

8 12 Brandon Keenon 6-0 180 RB/LB

9 11 Dillon Stutzman 5’6 145 WR/DB

10 10 Nick Marler 5’9 145 QB/DB

11 10 Keegan Holly 5’8 145 WR/DB

15 12 Justin Tow 6’0 190 QB/LB

18 10 Connor Duran 5’9 140 WR/DB

22 10 Austin James 5’10 150 RB/LB

32 10 Bryce Coulter 5’11 170 RB/LB

34 12 Garrison Whitfield 6’0 200 RB/LB

45 12 George Raborn 5’10 205 RB/DL

50 10 Austin Griffin 5’8 180 OL/DL

52 12 Desmond Ely 5’9 180 OL/DL

54 10 Kelton Gaskey 6’3 245 OL/DL

55 12 Gavin Baskin 6’0 220 OL/DL

56 12 Dalton Doerfler 6’0 210 OL/DL

58 10 Bryce Nichols 5’8 170 OL/DL

64 11 Austin Taylor 5’8 170 OL/DL

66 12 Charlie Guerrero 5’9 170 OL/DL

68 11 Lee Baltezore 5’10 255 OL/DL

71 11 Jake Porter 6-0 165 OL/DL

72 11 Josh Rice 5’9 230 OL/DL

74 11 Levi Baird 6’1 175 OL/DL

75 12 Joel Holman 6’3 265 OL/DL

76 11 Justin Miller 6’0 225 OL/DL

78 11 Chance Holley 6’2 295 OL/DL

79 12 Eric Whitlow 5’11 210 OL/DL

86 12 Tyler Plebuch 6’6 175 TE/DB

88 12 Ryan Hackworth 5’9 165 WR/DL

Coaching Staff: Head Coach Dustin Nichol; Assistant Coaches Scott Bozich, Brandon Gaskey, Brent Gaskey, Jay Horner, Keenan Martin, Randy Whitfield

Volunteer Coaches Cody Daniels, Hunter Jutte, Cory Warren.

Managers: Kat Kinker, Megan Grajeda