By Rubin E. Grant
Homewood football coach Ben Berguson is pretty straightforward and not given to nuances. But when talking about the Patriots’ prospects for the 2020 season, Berguson gave a nuanced response.
“Last year we were inexperienced, but this year we’re very young with only 16 seniors,” Berguson said. “We do have six starters returning on defense, which is good, and four on offense.”
After consecutive 10-win seasons in 2017 and 2018, the Patriots slipped to 4-7 in 2019. They did reach the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season, but they were eliminated in the first round.
If Homewood extends their playoff streak to nine, they will have to secure a spot while competing in a revamped Class 6A, Region 5, which includes Mountain Brook after the Spartans dropped down from 7A and Briarwood after it moved up from Class 5A.
“The region has gotten a lot tougher than it’s been in the past with Mountain Brook and Briarwood moving in,” Berguson said. “But also new to the region are Shades Valley, Woodlawn and Huffman, so there will be some added speed.”
The only other holdover in the region is Chelsea.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the Patriots.
Less than two weeks ago, the Patriots still were trying to determine who would be starting quarterback. Senior Brody Susce, a transfer from Spain Park who also plays baseball, and sophomore Woods Ray were competing for the job.
“You may see both of them throughout this year,” Berguson said. “Brody Susce has tremendous arm strength. He can throw a baseball 90 mph. Woods Ray has skills you don’t find in too many 10th graders. He’s a dual threat. I’m impressed with him.”
Sophomore Sam Carr returns after playing extensively as a freshman. “He got a bunch of carries,” Berguson said.
To add depth, senior Jed Stone moved to running back from receiver. Sophomore Jackson Parris also is in the mix.
“He is way ahead of his time,” Berguson said. “He’s one of our better athletes and might be the best. He’s going to get touches at running back and wide receiver. He will also play safety. He’s the only guy on the team who will play both ways. He’s a really good player.
The Patriots have to replace Trae Ausmer, a game breaker who had more than 1,000 yards receiving in 2019. The top outside receiving returnee is senior Len Irvine, who had more than 500 receiving yards last season playing opposite Ausmer.
“He’s sneaky good,” Berguson said.
In the slot, the Patriots will have Aron Marsch, whose older brother played for Homewood and at UAB.
“He’s real explosive,” Berguson said. “He can get the ball and go score.”
Junior J.C. Daniel is another slot receiver with breakaway speed. Another outside receiver is sophomore Charlie Reeves.
“You’ll see him getting a lot of playing time,” Berguson said.
Versatile 6-foot-5, 225-pound junior Harvey Ray, the older brother of Woods Ray, will play tight end.
“We can move him to backfield to play fullback or we can flex him out,” Berguson said. “He has good hands and is a good blocker. If he has a good year, he’ll be big-time prospect.”
Homewood’s offensive line suffered a big blow when all-state lineman Lucas Padgett moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, when his dad, Scott Padgett, the former Samford men’s head basketball coach, accepted an assistant coaching job at New Mexico.
“We are going to miss him,” Berguson said. “You don’t find many 6-4, 290-pound boys walking about the hallways.”
Without Padgett, the Patriots return three starters on the line, left tackle Clark Snow, right tackle Thomas Roney and guard James Brooks. Sophomore Jack Glenn will take over at center and Graham McLean will play the other guard spot. Senior Foster Snow and junior Cooper Johnston also will receive playing time.
The Patriots have done some shuffling on their defensive front. Senior Jalen Wright, who played defensive end last year, has moved to nose guard. Senior Emmanuel Erhumwunsee, at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds, has moved from outside linebacker to defensive end.
Josh Beasley, a 6-foot-5 junior, will start at the other defensive end with junior Taylor Ratcliff in reserve.
Both starting inside linebackers return, senior Charlie Goode and junior Henry Watson. Goode was the Patriots’ defensive player of the year in 2019.
The outside linebackers rotation will include junior Carter Engle, sophomore Miller Chapman and junior Jon Merrell, who moved from safety.
“I feel the strength of our team is the secondary,” Berguson said. “We have a good bunch of experienced players back there.”
Berguson believes seniors JaCorrie Ponds and J’veon Snow are both college prospects at cornerback. Senior Cameron Humes is also an experienced corner, and sophomore Owen Isenhower has impressed over the summer.
The safeties are seniors Blake Bunshaw and Dashaun Cottrell, along with junior Taylor Patterson.
Female kicker Katie Crim, who handled the place-kicking chores last season, has decided not to play football but concentrate on soccer.
Sophomore Maxy Salazar, a reserve defensive lineman, will be the placekicker and also kick off.
“He’s got really good leg strength,” Berguson said. Irvine will be the punter again this season.