Last year’s Henry County High School football team celebrated one of its best seasons on record with an impressive 9-4 mark, regular-season and post-season district championships, and the school’s first two playoff game victories.
A year later, the Wildcats return a majority of their top players, add a few new faces and have a new set of goals that includes surpassing last season’s historic run.
By looking at the 2008 roster, this year’s team seems very similar to 2007, but head coach Chris Engstrand is aggressive in pointing out these two teams are not the same. It’s like mixing apples and oranges, he says.
“The expectations are much higher for this team. It won’t be satisfactory to do what we did last year. If we continue to work hard, this team can show flashes of greatness. The reality is, if we outwork our opponents then we stand a solid chance of passing everything we accomplished last year.”
The biggest difference during the off-season has been the team’s added depth, which could be a major factor in propelling the Wildcats to the next level. All players will be fighting for playing time as the season progresses, Engstrand said. The change has already brought more competition to practices and should do the same during Friday night games when the Cats smash helmets with opposing teams.
“One thing that we have this year is tremendous competition across the board,” said Engstrand, who went 3-7 and 9-4 during his first two seasons as the head coach. “At this point, nobody on the team has sealed a position. It’s been a good, healthy competition for this team.”
Some of the key returning players include senior quarterback Hayden Yancey, junior middle linebacker Erick Butler and senior lineman Brett Downey — all three were named to the All-District Team following the Wildcats perfect 5-0 district record, while Butler was also named All-State Honorable Mention. But the trio will still have to earn playing rights as Yancey is in a battle with sophomore Luke Magness, Butler will be fighting for a starting job against some of his teammates that have matured, and Downey will be gunning for one of the elusive linemen spots.
Engstrand did say the closest player he has to a lock as a starter right now is Butler at linebacker, but the rest of the positions are still up for grabs as the team is less than two weeks away from its opener. Another player that is close to becoming a lock is senior Cody Miracle, who will line up behind quarterback as one of the team’s leading rushers.
The competition on the line is perhaps the most fierce, which will leave the bigger guys in a dog fight for lead roles. With injuries to Steven May and Matt Butts last season, the team returns eight regular starters on the offensive line alone. It’s a similar situation for the most of the other positions on the field, too.
“It’s a close call, we have a lot of kids who can play,” Engstrand said. “It’s been the hardest working bunch of guys — that’s for sure. So far, we’ve had just one bad practice the entire summer, which says a lot about this team.”
Offensively, the starting QB position is still up in the air with Yancey and Magness vying for the spot. Yancey has started for the Wildcats during the last two seasons, and was 187-of-362 passing last year for 2,558 yards and 23 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Mangess was Yancey’s backup last fall and had earned the starting nod during spring training due to his superb play. But with the first game just around the corner, and the two going back and forth daily, question marks still surround the starter.
“It’s a solid battle,” Engstrand said of the duo. “They both bring something different to the table. They both look good right now. It’s a fair competition, and as with every player on the this team, they will all get a shot.”
Other key returners are senior running back Patrick Mahoney, junior wide receiver Lance Timberlake, senior wide receiver Jimmy Sampson, senior wide receiver Matt Long, and junior tight end, linebacker and long snapper Trevor Raisor.
Some of the new additions to the team are seniors Cody Hinkle and Steven Tillett, junior Pete Baldwin and freshmen John Allgeier and Conner Johnson.
Last year’s team went 7-3 during the regular season, then defeated Western Hills and North Oldham in the first two rounds of the Class 3A State Playoffs before losing to a tough Paducah Tilghman squad in the quarterfinals.
After that season-ending loss, and an off-season to prepare for another go around, Henry will open its 2008 campaign Aug. 30 versus Ludlow in the Henry County Dairy Queen Bowl at 8:30 p.m.
“We’ve set goals in the past, but I think all the kids know what our goals are this year,” Engstrand said. “We basically want to build off of last season with a 10-win season, repeat as district champs, and win a regional championship. And anything on top of that is just icing on the cake.”
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