Hughson expects experience to matter as it begins defense of Section football title
The finality of playoff football can weigh on some players’ minds, which is why experience can be such a critical factor. This year’s Hughson team has 40 players who’ve “been there, done that.” All were part of last year’s Husky team that marched to the Sac-Joaquin Section, NorCal and State Division 5AA titles.
Hughson coach Shaun King believes that the positive memories from last season will give his team an advantage when it opens the Section Division VI playoffs at home Friday night against Colfax.
“We have 40 kids who have rings (awarded for a state title),” King said. “They went through the playoff run last year. That’s why I pull up sophomores (for the playoffs), so they get that experience. I want them to see how our seniors show up at practice every day and give it their all and the culture we have.”
Hughson (7-3) is seeded fourth in the Division VI bracket, which earned the Huskies a first-round bye last week. It also gave the players a much-needed time to rest and heal, and afforded King and his coaching staff a chance to scout No. 5 Colfax (7-4), which defeated No. 12 Amador 38-14 last Friday.
“They are very balanced,” King said of Colfax. “They have a good quarterback and a receiver who has 35 catches for the year. They have a good-sized tight end.
“On defense, they’re a scrappy team. They’re going to bring it. They’re comparable to Summerville last year. A scrappy, mountain team. Those mountain boys are tough kids.”
Still, King likes Hughson’s chances, especially with the size and strength of his offensive line paired with the ability of junior quarterback Robert McDaniel to connect with speedy receivers Malakai Sumter, Larkin Meyer, David Delgado and even Alex Villarreal out of the backfield.
“It’s a good matchup for us,” King said. “They say that speed kills and we have speed.”
The Huskies also have McDaniel, who has started since he was a freshman, guided his team to the state title last year and is coming off his best game ever – a seven-touchdown, 470-yard masterpiece against Ripon two weeks ago.
“We’re pretty lucky to have him and we still have another year,” King said. “He has really taken a leadership role this year. He was like a deer in the headlights as a freshman. His sophomore year, he was still trying to get grounded. Now, the seniors look at him like he’s a leader. He’s taken command of the team and the offense. We have a lot of trust in him.”
Hughson will also benefit from the return of Villarreal, who King said is fully recovered from a hamstring injury that sidelined the past few weeks. He will be running behind a rugged offensive line that has started the same five players all year long.
“They’ve played well and stayed healthy,” King said.
Defensively, the Huskies will lean on middle linebacker David Burns, the team’s leading tackler the past two seasons, as well as a veteran defensive line that has shown an ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks without relying on the blitz. King also expects Meyer and Sumter – when they’re playing defensive back – to have a key role in shutting down Colfax’s top receivers.
And as usual, turnovers could be a major factor in the outcome. Hughson has done a good job at that this season. The Huskies have intercepted 10 passes and recovered four fumbles while McDaniel has thrown just three interceptions in 222 pass attempts and the team has lost only five fumbles.
Kickoff Friday is at 7 p.m. at Husky Memorial Stadium. The winner will advance to the next round against either No. 1 Sutter (8-2) or No. 8 Liberty Ranch (6-4), which crushed Bear River 49-18 last week. Sutter and Liberty Ranch play on Thursday night, giving King and his staff a chance to do some in-person scouting.
The fact that every contest from here on out is an elimination game for one school puts a sharper focus on preparation and execution. That’s where King thinks Hughson’s experience can really pay off.
“Monday morning, someone’s turning in equipment,” he said. “I just want to make sure it’s not us. Football is a special sport; a lot of these seniors will never put on shoulder pads and helmets again. It’s not like basketball or baseball or softball, which they can play later in life. Football is emotional when you realize it’s over. A lot of these boys have been playing since fifth grade. You never know when that last Friday night might be.”
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