CORNELIUS When Matt Stevens looks along the sidelines at Hough High’s preseason practices, he sees a lot of new faces.
How those newcomers perform will determine whether the Huskies – ranked No. 8 in the Observer’s preseason Sweet 16 poll – can remain a contender in the tough MECKA 4A conference.
“It’s going to put a little pressure on us,” said Stevens, a senior linebacker. “We don’t have as much talent as we did last year, but we’re definitely working on making the team more cohesive and smarter. That way, we can compensate for some of the losses we’ve suffered.”
Hough graduated 20 seniors from last year’s team, which went 10-4 – including a runner-up finish to two-time state champion Mallard Creek in the conference standings – and advanced to the third round of the NCHSAA 4AA state playoffs.
Among the grads were a number of skilled players, including running back Bishop Ford, a South Carolina State signee who ran for 2,252 yards and 27 touchdowns last season; defensive back Mark Fields II, a Clemson signee who had 45 tackles and two interceptions as a senior; quarterback Will Coleman (1,601 passing yards, 17 TDs), and athletes Van Smith, Carl Tucker and Corey Bell Jr.
In addition, wide receiver Corey Sutton, who has verbally committed to Kansas State, transferred to Mallard Creek. Sutton was the Huskies’ leading receiver last season with 41 catches for 584 yards and five touchdowns.
“You never lose great players and think ‘Oh well, we’ve got some more coming,’” Hough coach Miles Aldridge said. “They’re hard to replace. But we’ve got some more good ones this year instead of great ones, which is why we’re going to have to win as a team.”
The Huskies have just six starters, including four two-way players, back this season. Among them are Marquill Osborne, who will start at both wide receiver and defensive back; Jaison Fournet at defensive end and offensive line, Adam Smith at wide receiver and defensive back, and Jordan Anderson on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Osborne, who has committed to Tennessee, is Hough’s leading returning receiver with 24 catches for 275 yards and four touchdowns, and will also be the Huskies’ primary kick and punt returner.
That’s where the cohesiveness – and the newcomers – come into play, according to Stevens.
“We lost a lot of talent,” said Stevens, who led Hough in total tackles last season with 84 and tied for the team lead in sacks (four). “But we’ve got to play smarter. We’ve got to know the Xs and Os and working together better, and playing with a tougher mentality.
“That’s something that was missing last year. We had a lot of talent, but at times we got finicky and definitely weren’t playing smart. This year, we’re a lot smarter.”
Among the newcomers are junior Jackson Gibbs – the grandson of Hall of Fame coach and NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs – who will likely take over at quarterback, and sophomore Jarrett Nagy, the team’s leading returning rusher (65 yards on 15 carries, one TD).
“This is going to be really exciting,” said Gibbs, who was Coleman’s backup last season, seeing action in five games. “Even though we did lose a lot of talent, we’re evolving into a great team right now. I think we’ve capable of having a great season.”