By Rubin E. Grant
After two consecutive 10-win seasons and a trip to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs for the first time in 13 years in 2018, the Homewood Patriots are rebuilding in 2019.
The Patriots have to replace 16 starters, including 10 on defense. In addition, most of their reserves last year were seniors, so they’re gone, too.
“We lost a lot of three-year starters, so we’re rebuilding this thing,” Homewood coach Ben Berguson said. “You’ll see a lot of new faces this year.
“But we’ve got such a great football culture. The guys are used to winning, so the expectations are high.”
Senior Pate Owen will take over at quarterback. He didn’t want to just observe as a backup last year, so he played tight end, H-back and fullback.
“It’s his time now,” Berguson said. “I’m anxious to see how he does. He’s 6-foot-4, 210-pounds with a real strong arm. He’s tougher because of the way we played him last year, so we’re going to run him more.”
Pate’s backup is junior Brody Susce, who transferred from Spain Park.
“If something happened to Pate, we wouldn’t miss out at all,” Berguson said. “We’re going to try to play him in more than mop-up duty. We’re going to give him some quality reps during games.”
At running back, KeOnte Davis returns.
“He was our red zone back and scored 10 touchdowns last year,” Berguson said. “He’s 5-8, 200 pounds. He’s thick and powerful.”
Sophomore Hansin Dalton is the Patriots’ breakaway threat out of the backfield.
“He’s the first freshman I’ve ever pulled up on the varsity,” Berguson said. “He has big-time potential. He and KeOnta complement each other. KeOnta is bigger and more powerful and Hansin is more of a scat back, but he has a short center of gravity and he’s tough to tackle.”
The Patriots’ most dangerous offensive weapon is 5-foot-7, 155-pound senior slot receiver Trae Ausmer. He accounted for 10 touchdowns, including three on punt returns, and had more than 1,700 all-purpose yards last year.
“He’s our best player on offense, our playmaker,” Berguson said. “We’ve got to find ways to get the ball in his hands.”
Senior Justin Towner will play the other slot, while sure-handed senior Cameron Green and competitive junior Len Irvine will play outside.
“The wild-card in the bunch is sophomore Aron Marsch,” Berguson said. “He has great hands. Don’t be surprised to see him crash the starting lineup.”
Homewood has three returning starters on the offensive line, anchored by 6-foot-4, 285-pound junior center Lucas Padgett.
Senior left tackle Jekobie Harris, who is 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds, and senior guard D.J. Parker, who is 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, are the other two returning starters.
Junior guard Clark Snow, who is 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, and junior tackle James Brook figure to move into the starting lineup.
Berguson said to keep an eye on 6-foot-6, 230-pound sophomore Thomas Roney.
“He’s our next big-time line prospect,” Berguson said.
“We don’t have much depth,” Berguson added. “I feel good about the starting group, but we can’t afford any injuries.”
Homewood will be starting all new faces on the defensive line. Senior Ryan Maxwell and junior Jaiven Williams figure to rotate at nose guard in the Patriots’ 3-4 scheme. Junior Jalen Wright and senior Brody Butler will be the starting defensive ends. Butler is also a highly skilled long snapper.
“Defensive line is probably the position we’re struggling with the most,” Berguson said. “They didn’t get many reps last year.”
Berguson said he feels good about the linebacking corp. Seniors Alex Ray and Gabe Madden will play outside linebacker.
“Both guys run really well,” Berguson said.
Talented juniors Charlie Goode and Jackson Lindsey will play inside.
Senior safety Kameron Gaines is the only returning starter on defense and could play both ways.
“You may see him play a little bit of tailback, too,” Berguson said.
Junior Blake Bunshaw will be the other safety. Senior Khardi Dalton, who’s coming back from an offseason ankle surgery, and junior Cameron Humes will start at cornerback.
Berguson is excited about junior cornerback JaCorrie Ponds.
“He was a basketball-only guy who came out for football,” Berguson said. “We tried him at wide receiver, but we moved him to defense. He’ll be in the rotation. We’re glad he came out for the team.”
The Patriots suffered a blow when place-kicker Lane Gilchrist transferred to Corner.
“That’s a big loss, especially since he could put the ball in the end zone (on kickoffs),” Berguson said.
Junior Nic Burczyka and sophomore Katie Crim will handle the place-kicking duties. Crim was the first girl to play on the Homewood freshman football team last year.
“She also plays soccer,” Berguson said. “She has a strong leg and she’s pretty accurate.”
Irvine and Owen will handle the punting.
Homewood will be attempting to reach the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season. The Patriots have a daunting early season schedule, facing Hueytown and Vestavia Hills in its first two games before jumping into Class 6A, Region 5 action against Pelham in Week 3.