by Sam Chandler
Inexperience took its toll on the Homewood High School football team last fall.
After clicking off four consecutive nine-win seasons from 2012- 15, the underclassmen-heavy Patriots struggled offensively and wobbled to a 5-6 record.
Their 2016 campaign ended with a 41-21 loss to Minor in the fi rst round of the Class 6A playoffs, which they entered by snagging the fi nal seed from Region 5.
“Going into the season, we felt like anything less than nine wins would be a disappointment,” said Homewood fourth-year head coach Ben Berguson. “The team’s really hungry now to get back on track.”
The Patriots have the personnel to do it.
Starters return at nearly every position, including at quarterback and along a bolstered offensive line, and Berguson expects his players’ collective experience to translate into more wins. In 2016, Homewood returned only five of 22 starters. Four played defense.
“I feel like the offense last year, we had a lot of ups and downs because it was basically everybody’s first year starting,” senior running back Nick McCoy said. “Last year we got into the fi re, and now we’re going to know what to do with the fire.”
Homewood will be aiming to make the postseason for a sixth straight year, and Berguson believes his team can break a decade-long trend. The Patriots have not advanced past the playoffs’ second round since winning the state championship in 2005.
“I would love to get into the quarterfi nals or deeper,” Berguson said. “If we get better each week, we’ll have a chance.”
Larkin Williams, a junior, takes over as the fulltime starter at quarterback. He split time last year with Ty Hatcher, who transferred to Bessemer Academy for his senior season. Williams possesses the mobility to make plays with his feet, but his arm and mind are his biggest strengths.
He’ll command Homewood’s spread offense from the shotgun and under center.
“He sees everything, and he just knows the whole package,” Berguson said. “We look for big things out of him.”
The Patriots expect the same from running backs Nick McCoy and David Robertson, a onetwo combo that Berguson compares to thunder and lightning. McCoy, at 6 feet and 212 pounds, is a former linebacker who rushed for 500 yards last fall while playing behind starter Chestin Jones. Robertson is a lighter back who totes the ball with more zoom than boom.
Berguson said he expects McCoy to eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground, especially with an improved offensive line. That group will be anchored by left guard Harry Moody, the team’s offensive lineman of the year in 2016.
Joseph Ingram and Jekobie Harris project as two other linemen to watch. Ingram returns at center, and Harris is a 6-foot-3, 280-pound sophomore who will start at right tackle.
“I’ll think he’ll definitely turn out to be a prospect,” Berguson said.
TyShawn Buckner, a senior, returns to lead a receiving corps that is deep on talent but relatively shallow on snaps. The Patriots lost a number of wideouts to graduation, and senior Logan Padgett has decided to concentrate on basketball. Homewood will look to Wesley Williams, Marcus McGhee and Stephon May, an all-state high jumper, to fill the void.
C.D. Daniels, a standout defensive back, will also be used at receiver in certain situations.
“He’s too good of an athlete not to have out there,” Berguson said.
Daniels leads a secondary that Berguson views as the strength of the defense. Daniels, a senior, has started since his sophomore year and has established his reputation as a lockdown corner.
But he won’t patrol the secondary alone. Jaden Alexander, a junior, will play at the opposite cornerback position, and Chance Hall is back from a torn ACL. Kris Wilkins and Jackson Griggs will likely start at safety.
At the defensive core, Traveon Allen and Trent Owens will spearhead a polished linebacking group. Owens, a senior, has moved from inside to outside linebacker, and Berguson said he has a future at the next level. Devin Bacchus will join Allen and Owens on the outside, while Parker Allen and Crawford Doyle will contribute at inside linebacker.
“When you think of true Patriot, you think of Parker Allen,” Berguson said of the senior. “He’s kind of patiently waited his turn. He works hard in the weight room. He’s a good, solid football player.”
Antoine McGhee, a nose guard, and John Firnberg, a defensive end, will hold down the trenches. McGhee started last year and emerged as a near-constant presence in opposing backfi elds. Berguson said Firnberg, at 6 feet 3 and 220 pounds, has the potential to draw college interest.
“If you line the whole football team up out here, he’s probably the best-looking player we’ve got, as far as just his build,” Berguson said.
Lane Gilchrist, a sophomore, will perform place-kicking duties. He came on last season and proved a reliable option on field goals and extra points.
“He’s very accurate,” Berguson said.
Ibrahima Sylla will most likely perform kickoffs, and Joseph Molstad will punt.
TyShawn Buckner (4), a senior, returns to lead a receiving corps that is deep on talent but relatively shallow on snaps. Photo by Todd Lester.
Head coach: Ben Berguson
Overall record: 29-18
At Homewood: 23-12
Tenure: 4th season
Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks: David Jones
Running Backs: Keith Brown
Wide Receivers: Doug Gann
Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Inside Linebackers: Freddy Lawrence
Defensive Line: Myron Powe
Outside Linebackers: Jason Haithcock
Cornerbacks: Russell Martin
Safeties: Carter Doyle