(Editor’s note: For the full photo gallery of Monday’s practice, click here.)
Preseason practice marks the beginning of another new season in Texas. Putting on a helmet for the first time in months is an exciting time for players and coaches as they prepare to start another season.
For the Chapin Huskies, the first preseason practice marked a new beginning for a team that started off blazing hot at 8-0 but then stumbled to the finish line, losing their final two district games before bowing out in the Class 5A area round last season. As a new chapter begins on Monday, the top priority for the Huskies is coming together as a team.
“This year, I feel like we’ve really come closer as a team,” senior quarterback Anthony Baird said, “I think if we play as a family, we’ll be pretty successful.”
Unity has been a focal point for head coach Rene Hernandez in 2017, who enters his eleventh season as the head coach of the Huskies. There’s only been one practice, but Hernandez likes what he sees from his team early on.
“It’s been the biggest area of improvement I’ve seen over the offseason,” Hernandez said, “You never know the personality of a team every year until adversity hits us and we didn’t do very well when it hit hard towards the end of the season. We worked hard on coming together as a team and looking out for each other. The team knows that it’s a big focus on what we’re looking for.”
With a new season comes a new look as well. The Huskies were a strong defensive team last season, only giving up an average of 12.5 points per game while the offense was still “maturing” according to Hernandez. Entering 2017, Hernandez indicates that the reverse is true for the upcoming year.
“The units have flipped roles this year,” Hernandez said, “A lot of the younger guys got some playing time last year on defense but it’s still a young group. Our offense is definitely going to help carry that load while our defense gels, but I think they’ll be strong again because of how athletic they are and that says a lot given our unit from last season.”
Two of their top returners, quarterback Anthony Baird and senior running back Matthew Zubiate, are taking on larger roles with the team and after growing into the offense last season, both are ready for breakout years.
“I learned a lot from (senior running back) Angel Soto last season,” Zubiate said. “After he got hurt last year, I just had to step in and I’ve improved a lot thanks to him.”
“The offense has really slowed down a lot more for me,” Baird said after starting under center last season, “Now, it’s about repeating everything over and making sure it’s as close to perfect as it can be.”
“They’re really the leaders and the example we want our younger guys to follow in the offense,” Hernandez said of the backfield combo, “They work hard wherever they are and when our younger guys see them in the backfield, the confidence of the whole offense goes up.”
Meanwhile, several top playmakers from that stout defense are gone. Even with the departures, the Huskies are still confident in their abilities and are ready to take on the challenge of growing up quickly.
“The game has slowed down a lot for me and I feel like I can help lead the defense to big things,” the junior cornerback said, “We still have a lot of confidence and skill coming back and I think you’ll see that on the field.”
Only a junior, Williams is “the quarterback of the defense” per Hernandez and his playmaking ability (71 tackles, 3 INT in 2016) will be counted on in a big way.
“Will is very confident in his abilities,” Hernandez says of Williams, “He had a great offseason and I just think he’s ready to blossom. He had a great year last year and I think he’ll be even better this season.”
As for the Huskies’ outlook this season, the non-district schedule presents some challenging matchups, including a scrappy Bel Air team, a strong Eastlake team and a Pebble Hills team that should be much-improved in their second year of varsity play. As for how far the Huskies can go, Hernandez says its early but the goal remains the same as it has been the last few seasons.
“Our goal is to always to get to where we were the year before to get another opportunity,” Hernandez said, “You never know what can happen in that area round game and we’ve had a few close calls but that’s always the goal.”
As for how to reach that goal, it all circles back to one thing for the Huskies: playing together.
“On the backs of our shirts this year, it says we are one,” Zubiate said following practice, “This season, it’s all about being a family and not worrying about individuals or stats. If the score says 34-0 and we’re ahead, that’s all that matters.”
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