First-year Platte Canyon High School Head Football Coach Lance Gunkel says he admittedly doesn’t know exactly what to expect from his 22-player roster just yet, but he will be finding out more very soon as the Huskies prepare to host the Lyons Lions in season-opening scrimmage Friday at 7 p.m.
“If you feel completely prepared, you are probably over-confident,” Gunkel said. “The kids have been working hard all summer, but there are still a lot of unknowns, and there is still a lot of work to do before the season starts.”
As is the case with most teams competing in Class 1A football around the state, roster depth is a challenging issue for coaches and players alike. Many of the Huskies’ 22 players will have to perform on both offense and defense, as well as special teams. Some players, out of sheer necessity, will be forced to play games in which they remain on the field continually from start to finish.
“Depth is obviously a concern,” Gunkel said. “We will have a lack of experience at certain positions, so those kids will have to learn fast. For example, we will have an entirely new offensive backfield this season.”
One such newcomer to the Huskies’ offensive backfield will be sophomore quarterback Allen Hardey. Hardey, who lettered in football, basketball and baseball as a freshman, has been diligently preparing for his new role as the PCHS signal caller.
“Allen is still a work in progress, and we are working on his mechanics and making adjustments to his throwing motion,” Gunkel said. “But he’s a good athlete, he’s been practicing hard, and he’s been learning as he goes. So I think he’ll be fine once he settles in to the position.”
Hardey is not entirely new to the backfield, and did garner 29 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown as a freshman. Hardey is also a key cog in the defensive unit, and he was in on 36 tackles from his safety position last season.
Senior linebacker Brandon Patterson, who led the team with 27 solo tackles and was in on a staggering 106 tackles (10.6 per game) last season, will be joining Hardey in the offensive backfield and should see a considerable number of carries in 2019.
Patterson saw limited time as a runner in 2018, carrying the ball five times for 47 yards for an average of 9.5 yards per attempt.
The bulk of the ball-carrying duties will likely go to senior running back Hunter Hewitt. Hewitt had just three carries for 34 yards last season, but has impressed Gunkel with both his athleticism and his work ethic throughout summer workouts.
“Hunter has looked really good over the summer, and he has really dug in and worked hard,” Gunkel said. “I expect him to have a very productive season for us. He is definitely a player to watch.”
Hewitt, like Hardey and Patterson, will also be called upon to anchor a Huskies defense that has traditionally been the strength of the team. Hewitt will likely be playing alongside Hardey at safety, and could also see some time at linebacker.
With Gunkel serving as defensive coordinator in 2018, the stingy Huskies defense allowed an average of just 16 points per contest. The Huskies were especially dominant in conference play last season, giving up just nine points per game.
Another player Gunkel expects to be a key contributor on both sides of the ball is senior Johnathan Hannigan. Hannigan, according to Gunkel, should be a playmaker at defensive end, and will also contribute to the offensive unit at tight end.
Returning starters on both the offensive and defensive lines include Ben Hatz (sophomore), and juniors Jacob Ebbs and Mike Dean. The return of that trio figures to provide much needed stability on a roster comprised of five seniors, six juniors, four sophomores and six freshmen.
Senior Keith Giles will take over at center, and will also double up at defensive tackle.
For better or for worse, the first half of the schedule, all against non-conference opponents, appears to be the most challenging for the Huskies.
“I’m not sure we would be considered favorites in any of our first five games,” Gunkel noted.
Last season the Huskies dropped two of their first three non-conference games, but recovered to win six of their last seven down the stretch.
The first regular season game is slated to occur Sept. 6, at home, against Buena Vista at 4 p.m.