Returning Huskies provide core of football veterans

Scott Swanson

After finishing last year with an 8-3 record, Sweet Home’s football team is aiming for as good or better this year, with 14 seniors back from last year’s squad.

The Huskies finished the 2011 season with a long road trip to Baker, where they lost 43-7 – not the way they wanted to end their season.

But despite that disappointment and the graduation of 10 seniors, and a bit of a stumbling stat at 5A Division Redmond in their season opener Friday night (see Section A page 13), Sweet Home has a pretty decent stock of players in its cupboard.

They include the Sky-Em League’s offensive and defensive MVP – senior running back and linebacker Wade Paulus – and a selection of other returning all-league players: junior quarterback Cole Horner, who was the all-league second team selection at that position; his twin brother Austin Horner, who was named co-team MVP along with Paulus and second-team all-league linebacker; second-team all-league defensive backs Colton Schilling and Mitch Keenon, both seniors; and honorable mention selections Zach Bill at offensive tackle, a senior; and defensive linemen Josh Holman and David Skeen, both seniors.

Coach Dustin Nichol said it’s notable that this year’s seniors have been playing together since the fourth grade.

“It’s nice to have that camaraderie,” he said, “Knowing you can depend on that guy next to you. That’s what we’re all about.”

Adding to the mix are two transfers, David Miller from Summit and Austin Smith from the Portland area.

Nichol said the Sweet Home game will center on its lines – offensive and defensive.

Seniors David Skeen, Nate Melcher, Kyle Wodtli and Zane Jackson, and junior Austin Horner are expected to anchor the front on both sides.

“That’s basically our line coming back from last year,” Nichol said. “This group has rotated in a lot. The line has a lot of experience coming back.”

Adding to that mix will be Gill, who is sitting out two games for disciplinary reasons.

Despite the strength and experience Nichol sees in his linemen, the unit isn’t deep.

“We have sophomores Shawn Worthen and Chris Melcher and junior Ben Terry who will fill in some holes,” he said.

In the backfield, Cole Horner is back for his second year as varsity quarterback after throwing for 11 touchdowns last year as a sophomore.

“We expect him to step up,” Nichol said. “He’s grown an inch and gained another 10 pounds. He’s a big kid.”

The running game, which, Nichol said, will be the Huskies’ bread and butter, will be anchored by Paulus, who rushed for 1,772 yards and 24 touchdowns on 227 carries last year.

The coach said other backs who showed promise, particularly at a football camp at Whitworth College earlier this summer, are juniors Spencer Knight and JT Weld, and sophomore Kyler Gaskey. Fullbacks will be Josh Wooley and Jacob Smith. Smith will also sit out two games, for discplinary reasons.

The receivers corps will be anchored by back-up quarterback Colton Holly, along with fellow senior Keenon. They will be joined by senior Trever Olson and juniors Austin Rice and Bryce Keenon.

Nichol said Holly and Olson stood out with their work ethic and preparation during the summer.

“If I had to pick two players who stepped up on the offensive side of the ball, they are Colton Holly and Trever Olson,” he said. “They worked their butts off to play at a different level, both offensively and defensively. They have accepted their roles and run with it. They’re doing great jobs.”

Tight ends will be senior Quin Wise and junior Austin Stutzman, along with Miller, the transfer.

“Our strength is going to be our off-tackle and misdirection – our run game,” Nichol said. “We will be a power off-tackle team.

“Hopefully, we can use the run to establish the pass. We’ve seen growth in the last couple of weeks in our passing game. As the season goes on, we want to use set passing plays rather than play action. As Cole gets more accurate, you’ll see more of that.”

On defense, Holman returns to as one of the ends for what Nichol said he expects to be a “strong” defensive line. Also back to play defensive end are Zane Jackson, Wise and Paulus. Anchoring the line at tackle will be Skeen, Gill, Wodtli and Terry, who Nichol said are “studs.”

“Any four of those guys on the field at a given time is going to give any offensive line trouble – especially our ends. We are going to be able to set a hard edge there.”

Linebackers will include returnees Austin Horner, and Nate Melcher and Josh Wooley, both seniors.

Cole Horner and David Miller will back them up.

Nichol said he expects the corners to be another strong group. Schilling, a “solid” open-field tackler, returns along with Olson, both seniors, with backups Weld, Stutzman and Gaskey in the wings.

“We’re deep at corner,” Nichol said. “We have quality kids, physical kids, athletes there.”

Playing safety will be seniors Keenon and Holly, backed up by two “good” juniors, Rice and Knight.

“Knight is our cover guy,” Nichol said. “Our secondary is very good, at least from what we’ve seen in practice. We have high expectations for these guys coming into this season.

“We have a lot of guys going both ways, but we’re deep and we’re going to do a lot of rotation to keep guys fresh.”

Kicking duties will be handled by Paulus, who was an all-league honorable-mention punter last year. He will be backed by sophomore Hunter Jutte. Keenon and Knight will return kicks and punts.

Nichol said Sweet Home has “way high” numbers of freshmen, who will be split between the JV1 team, which is allowed by the league to only play freshmen and sophomores, and the JV2, which can play juniors as well. Schedules were in flux last week for those teams, he said, and he anticipates a lot of movement back and forth by players who need game time.

The Huskies are playing five of their regular-season varsity games, including the first three, on the road this year.

“Last year we weren’t that good of a road team, so we’re working on that now,” Nichol said.

He said he’s tried to schedule teams that he believes will do well in their leagues, so the Huskies started with 5A Redmond on Friday, Aug. 31, and follow that with Banks (Sept. 7) and Central (Sept. 14) before hosting Sutherlin in Sweet Home’s home opener on Sept. 21.

“I figured we would be a competitive team this year, so I want to challenge us,” he said.

As far as the league shapes up, Nichol said the biggest competition will likely come from Cottage Grove and Elmira, but he’s not overlooking the others.

La Pine, for instance, has three players from its 4×100 relay team that placed second in the state last spring.

“They have potential to do damage – it’s just whether they have what it takes to put it together to make that happen as a team.

“Each team will be tough,” he said. “All of the teams we played last year were young – playing a lot of freshman and lot of sophomores. The question will be how experienced they are, how much they played during summer. I don’t know. It’s kind of a crapshoot.

“A lot of times it comes down to your will against mine. And you will lose. That’s our philosophy this year.”