SH finally get cleats on football field – uncertainties aside

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home’s football players are ready to go, but the road they’ll be taking this season isn’t super clear.

For starters, the Huskies’ scheduled opener against Newport, penciled in for Friday, March 5, was canceled – or at least postponed because the Cubs don’t have enough practices in to be able to play.

Instead, the Huskies are now headed to Elmira, which had an open date this Friday.

But Sweet Home’s Coach Dustin Nichol and his players are happy just to be able to run out on the field, whenever that happens.

“It’s going OK,” Nichol said last week, as the Huskies followed through with their second week of practice. “I’m happy to have kids out there. I’m not happy with the numbers.”

COVID has taken its toll, he said. Normally, Sweet Home has between 60 and 65 players out for football in the fall. As of midweek last week, Nichol said he had 38. The door will be open throughout the season for any others who want to shake off the rust and put on pads, he said.

“I think what it is, it’s later in the season. The weather is colder. And I think a lot of kids have moved on. They’ve gotten jobs. They have a different lifestyle, staying at home. In-person schooling is only two days a week and that gives them a five-day weekend. If they’re diligent, they can get their schoolwork done in a couple of hours and they can mess around for the rest of the day.”

He said that in athletics, it takes about three or four weeks for athletes to establish a “habit” of participation in a sport.

“They’ve had almost a year to create this habit of doing nothing.”

Still, Nichol said, he has a “core group” of players who’ve stuck with it, continuing workouts starting last March when the COVID pandemic abruptly shut down all spring sports, just as the season was about to kick off.

“With the few-in-number people we have, ranging from freshmen to seniors, it’s tough to put together a competitive team,” he said. “But I think the guys we’ve got for varsity are a pretty talented group.”

That group includes senior quarterback Aiden Tyler who starts his long-delayed senior season fresh off signing a letter of intent to play football for Western Oregon.

Tyler (5-10, 190), finished the 2019 season as a Second Team All-Oregon West Conference selection at quarterback after throwing for 1,264 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Huskies, who went 3-6. He was also Sweet Home’s leading rusher with 57 carries for 282 yards in nine games.

Nichol said Tyler “has done everything he possibly could to promote himself” during the break in organized sports activities, including sessions in the weight room that started following the 2019 season, individual quarterback workouts, attendance at at least one combine and participation in an all-star game series in Texas last summer.

In October, Tyler and most of Sweet Home’s receivers and running backs participated in a seven-on-seven league, which resulted in him and fellow senior Cole Baxter (5-10, 160), also an all-league pick at receiver (Honorable Mention) and defensive back (Second Team) being invited to join a couple of traveling teams, where they got more time on the field last fall. Baxter caught 16 passes in six games as a junior, for 131 yards.

“Aiden has just been doing everything he possibly could to prepare himself for the season that’s finally coming to pass,” Nichol said of his quarterback.

Back, along with Baxter, are five other seniors: receivers Austin Marler (6-1, 170) and Kyle Marler (6-0, 165), running back Cade Gaskey (6-1, 210) and linemen Jake Fanning (5-10, 225), Keegan Fox (6-1, 275) and Trevor Carr (6-2, 300).

Gaskey was named Second Team All-League as both a running back and linebacker in 2019, after gaining 229 yards on 44 carries.

Also back is junior Tucker Weld (5-10, 180), who was received Honorable Mention All-League recognition at offensive guard.

A newcomer who not only helps with the player count but should be a key addition on the field is junior wide receiver/running back Daniel Luttrell (6-0, 185), a transfer from West Albany, who played with the seven-on-seven season with the Huskies.

Rounding out the roster are juniors: tight end/linebacker Russell Holly (6-0, 185), wide receivers/defensive backs Brayden Newport (5-8, 170), Jacob Ingram (5-11, 155), Gill Witherspoon (6-1, 150) and Ryan Tyndall (6-3, 190), and linemen Kolby Gazely (6-0, 230), Wyatt Hall (5-10, 210), Charlie Crawford (6-0, 175), Dakota Melkvik (5-10, 215) and Morgan Sands (6-0, 210); sophomores Kaden Zajic, Jeremy Zook, Heath Nichol, Riley Korn, Brady Nichols, and Tanner Waldrop; and freshmen Cody Baker, Xander Gosenll, Chance Linn, Collin Nicholson, Kelso Ellis, Jayse Miller, Mason Montigue, Deacon Bachand, Ryker Hartrsook, Jon Holly, Owen Crown, Bret Ough, and Nathan Aker.

The Huskies have been practicing since Feb. 8, and will have have a month in helmets and pads by the time they see their first game opponent, Elmira, Friday, March 5, on the road.

Last Friday, Feb. 26, they faced off with defending 3A state champion Santiam Christian in a jamboree-style scrimmage at Husky Field.

“The kids got a good feel for what the game’s going to be like,” Nichol said, adding that he has five players who are either playing for the first time or haven’t been on the football field for at least three years.

Santiam Christian scored, but Nichol said he was happy that his most experienced players were self-critiquing Monday when they came to practice, before the coaches could even say anything to them.

“We made some mistakes but we did some good things.

Nichol said they will continue the basic no-huddle, spread offense they’ve been using for the past several years.

“Obviously, with the weather and everything, we’re not going to throw as much as we have in the past,” he said.

“We’ve made adjustments to our running games, expanded that. We were planning to do that anyway. This is our fourth or fifth year using this offense and it takes time to morph it from what it was when you got it from someone else into what you like and then adjust it even more to the clientele you have.

“My philosophy is not to necessarily bend the clientele to a set of offensive plays I have. I keep our base, but I bend the offense and defense to fit our clientele.”

Defensively, he said, the Huskies should be in “pretty good shape.”

A key addition has been defensive line Coach Cy Maughner, who played at Eastern Michigan and who taught there before coming to Sweet Home.

“The kids love him,” Nichol said. “He’s been a great addition to our school and our football program.”

Also assisting this season will be Cole Horner as quarterback and running backs coach, Ryan Adams as offensive coordinator and receivers coach, Blake Manley as defensive backs coach and Jay Horner as offensive line coach. Nichol said he will serve as defensive coordinator.

Because of the number of players that have turned out so far, Nichol said he plans to suit everybody up in the same uniform and that most of his varsity players will be on the field a lot. Currently, he has four JV games scheduled, including one with Marist since Sisters (March 22) doesn’t have enough players to field two teams.

“We don’t have many to sub through,” he said. “Iron man football has been the way of the past, but it’s going to be a challenge for the guys. They’re going to get a lot of playing time.”

Getting a schedule together has been “frustrating,” he said.

The Huskies were thinking about taking a trip to La Grande to get a game, when Elmira lost an opponent and had an opening this Friday.

“It worked out good,” he said.

As indicated by Sisters, Oregon West teams have all struggled as Sweet Home has, with ever-changing mandates from the OSAA and Nichol said he’s not sure what to expect.

“I think all the other teams I’ve talked to, most of the others are reporting in with enough bodies to do varsity and junior varsity,” he said. “It sounds like they’re moving and shaking. It’s promising.

“We’re ready to play some games. There’ve been some obstacles. We’ll see how it goes. We’ve got a schedule, so we’ll see if it comes to fruition. That’s all we can do on our end.”