By Rubin E. Grant
The Homewood Patriots enter the 2018 football season with designs on making a run at the Class 6A title.
In 2017, Homewood came within a minute of finishing the regular season unbeaten. Then after a thrilling comeback first-round playoff win against Fort Payne, the Patriots were eliminated in the second round by Clay-Chalkville to finish the year 10-2.
Coach Ben Berguson understands fans are expecting more from the Patriots this fall and so does he, but he sounded a word of caution.
“The expectations for us are really high, but we have to replace 15 starters,” Berguson said. “But the starters returning off last year’s team are in the right positions.”
That begins with quarterback Larkin Williams, a three-year starter.
“He’s got a high football IQ and he processes things quickly,” Berguson said. “With all the experience he has, it’s like having another coach.”
Tre Roberson, the son of former Homewood quarterback and current Birmingham City Councilman Jay Roberson, is the backup.
“We experimented with him at receiver in the spring because he’s really athletic,” Berguson said. “He came out of spring as our top receiver. There’s a lot of hype surrounding him as a quarterback. He’s probably the best athlete in our school. We’re going to try to get him and Larkin on the field at the same time as much as possible.”
At running back, the Patriots will have juniors KeOnte Davis and Khardi Dalton.
“KeOnte is a real explosive runner and ‘K.D.’ has got great vision, so we’ll have a great one-two punch at tailback.”
Freshman Hanson Dalton, K.D.’s younger brother, has been pulled up from the junior varsity to add depth.
“He’s been so impressive,” Berguson said.
The Patriots will employ an H-back this season with senior Wilson McCraw and junior Pate Owen splitting time.
“Both are hybrid players who can play in the backfield or tight end or we can flex them as wide receivers,” Berguson said.
In addition to Roberson, the Patriots will feature 6-foot-1-inch senior Marcus McGhee as a wide receiver.
“He’s someone you should keep your eye on,” Berguson said. “He played in the shadow of TyShawn Bucker (now at Navy) last year. He’s got really soft hands.”
Senior Wesley Williams and junior Trae Ausmer, an ultra-quick 5-foot-5-inch speedster, will be used as slot receivers. Impressive sophomore Len Irvine also will be in the mix.
The offensive line has tremendous size, averaging 270 pounds.
“We haven’t been big across the front like that in a few years,” Berguson said.
Leading the way is 6-foot-7-inch, 330-pound senior left tackle Grayson Kelley.
“He’s such a man,” Berguson said. “He’s being recruited, but he didn’t earn a starting role until toward the end of last season, so there’s not a lot of film on him. He’ll be evaluated (by college recruiters) early in the year to see what level of school he’ll go to.”
At right tackle, the Patriots will have 6-foot-4-inch, 290-pound junior Jekobie Harris. Senior Will Strong, at left guard, and sophomores Lucas Padgett, at center, and Clark Snow, at right guard, also will start.
“We don’t have any depth, so our biggest problem will be staying healthy,” Berguson said. “That’s the biggest problem for the whole team. We can’t catch the injury bug.”
The offense also has been bolstered by the addition of new offensive coordinator Heath Brunner, the former head coach at Jasper.
“He brings a different energy to our offense,” Berguson said.
Strong Defense Up Front
Defensively, the Patriots are strong up front but inexperienced in the secondary.
“Our front seven on defense is as good as it’s ever been,” Berguson said.
Anchoring the defensive line is 5-foot-7-inch, 240-pound senior nose tackle Antoine McGhee.
“He had 15 tackles for losses last year, and even when he’s not making tackles, he’s very disruptive,” Berguson said.
McGhee, who broke his ankle late last season, will be backed up by senior Rene Briseno.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 235-pound McCraw and fellow seniors Tobias Thomas and Vincent Adams will rotate at defensive end.
The linebacking corps will feature seniors Crawford Doyle and Charlie Williams on the inside and seniors John Firnberg and Traveon Allen on the outside. Doyle led the team with 100 tackles last year.
Berguson described the 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound Firnberg as “the best-looking kid on the team” from a physical standpoint because he spends plenty of time in the weight room.
The Patriots’ secondary took the biggest hit from last season. Not only did cornerback C.D. Daniels and strong safety Kris Wilkins graduate – Daniels is at UAB and Wilkins is at Faulkner University – but cornerback Jaden Alexander tore his ACL in a 7-on-7 tournament at Spain Park during the summer and will miss the season.
K.D. Dalton will start at one corner and senior Dwayne Smith will start at the other. Seniors Michael Kash and Ky Burdeshaw will play safety and junior Gabe Madden will back up at each position in secondary and outside linebacker.
Junior Lane Gilchrist will handle all the kicking chores.
“He’s a weapon,” Berguson said. “He puts the ball in the end zone on kickoffs and he’s good from 50 yards in on field goals.”
Homewood will play its season-opener against Hueytown on Aug. 23 at Samford. The following week the Patriots will travel to Vestavia Hills, which they defeated for the first time in 10 tries last fall.
The Patriots’ first Class 6A, Region 5 game will be against Pelham. Helena, Minor, Chelsea, Carver-Birmingham and Jackson-Olin are other region opponents. Homewood’s other non-region game is against Center Point.
“We’ve had nine- and 10-win seasons in recent years,” Berguson said. “The thing that has eluded us is the quarterfinals. That’s a big goal for us.”