By Rubin E. Grant
The Homewood Patriots have reached the state playoffs for nine consecutive seasons.
Coach Ben Berguson, in his eighth season, believes the ingredients are there to make it 10 years in a row, considering the abundance of talent returning from 2020.
“Last year, we were young and inexperienced,” Berguson said. “This year, we’re still young but we do have experience.
“We’ve got kids in the right spots. We’ve only got 17 seniors – we will have over 30 next year – but we’ve got a really good nucleus with seven starters back on offense and five on defense.”
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the 2021 Patriots:
Junior Woods Ray takes over full-time as the starting quarterback after splitting time with the graduated Brode Susce last year.
“He’s the real deal,” Berguson said of Ray. “He can spin it and he can run it too. He’s 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and has the chance to be a (NCAA Division I) Power 5 conference prospect.”
Sophomore Harris Fowlkes will back up Ray. “He’s a good runner. He’s a track star. He’s a return specialist on punts and kickoffs, too.”
Juniors Mondrell Odell and Jordan Kiwoi will be the primary ballcarriers out of the backfield after junior Sam Carr, the leading rusher last season, was moved to linebacker.
“Mondrell is very dependable and a power guy,” Berguson said. “Jordan is more of a finesse runner.”
Junior Calyb Colbert also is in the mix, and Fowlkes will line up at running back in certain situations.
Berguson likes what the Patriots have at receiver.
“It’s a solid core and they all have big-play potential,” he said.
Junior Jackson Parris and senior Aron Marsch head up the group. Charlie Reeves, J.C. Daniel and Hunter Drake are also on hand. Berguson said Daniel is probably the fastest player on the team and is the deep threat.
Versatile 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior tight end Harvey Ray, the older brother of the quarterback, also will be a target and is a top prospect. He draws high praise from Berguson.
“We can do a lot of things with him, playing him at fullback, tight end or flexing him out at wide receiver,” Berguson said. “We throw jump balls up to him all the time.”
Junior Tripp Gann will be the backup tight end. Junior Rigdon Gibbons also will play tight end and wide receiver.
Berguson said this is one of the better offensive lines he has had since he’s been at Homewood.
It features senior Miles Williams at left tackle and sophomore Jack Watson at left guard.
“He (Watson) started as a freshman, the first freshman lineman I’ve ever had do that,’’ Berguson said.
Senior Cooper Johnston will be at center, junior Taylor Lemmon at right guard, and junior Graham McLean at right tackle.
Sophomore Jaxon Brooks provides depth.
“They’re a solid group,” Berguson said, “and they enjoy playing offensive line. Nobody is huge, but they’re athletic and they all run well. I like this bunch.”
Up front in the 3-4 scheme are junior nose guard Maxy Salazar, who moved over from the offensive line, and ends Mike Ngei, the senior leader, and sophomore Hayden Eldridge.
Aaron Ford and Luke Keown, a standout goalkeeper on the soccer team, also will be in the rotation.
Berguson likes having Keown on the team.
“This is his first year out and he’s turned out to be our biggest surprise,” he said. “He’s a good player.”
Senior outside linebacker Carter Engle and senior inside linebacker Henry Watson return as starters. The other inside starter will be junior Miller Chapman and the other outside starter will be Jon Merrell.
Carr and Adam Parker will fill reserve roles inside and outside.
Senior safety Taylor Patterson, a standout baseball player, heads up the secondary. Junior Clay Burdeshaw, from a long line of Burdeshaws in the program, will start at the other safety.
Four players are rotating at cornerback: Owen Isenhower, Logan Hall, Parker Sansing and Brian Condon.
Daniel will handle the place-kicking duties with newcomer Abdul Maflahi as the punter.
“He’s pretty good,” Berguson said. Ford will serve as the backup kicker.