State Football Final Preview: Huffman takes talented team to Lincoln


Gauret Stearns

Signs dot the grass in front of Bellevue West Monday morning, wishing the football players good luck before their state final.

Nathan Hawkins, Reporter

Tonight at 7:15 p.m., the Bellevue West Thunderbirds will head to Lincoln to do something they have never done in school history: compete in the Nebraska State Championship game.

Entering the game at 12-0, the Thunderbirds will have their hands full with fellow undefeated team, the Omaha North Vikings. The Vikings are no stranger to the final, as they are making their fourth appearance, with their last three happening in the last 5 years. They are 2-1 in those appearances. Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds will look to write their name in the championship books for the first time in school history.

Bellevue West will rely on running back Jaylin Bradley, who will look to cement his name as one of the greatest players to ever play in the state by leading the Thunderbirds to their first championship win.

Among the records that he has littered the state record book with is most rushing yards in a game with 496, most Class A points in a season with 282, most Class A touchdowns in a season with 47, most Class A points in a game 42, and has tied the record for most Class A touchdowns in a game with 7. He is currently fifth in the nation in touchdowns, with three of the people ahead of him having played more games than him. He will enter the game with 2,668 yards on the ground.

Bellevue West Coach Michael Huffman explained how his teammates have helped him reach these heights.

“He’s a special talent and I’ve said it all year, he’s the best high school football player in Nebraska,” Huffman said. “But even with that said if you don’t have the great linemen in front of him, the receivers that are blocking down field, and then a quarterback who can still throw the ball he wouldn’t have that much success. We’re just a really balanced and highly productive offense.”

The Thunderbirds will have to utilize all the weapons they have tonight as they face one of the best defenses in the state. Huffman acknowledged that in order to win the game, the Thunderbirds would have to be hitting on all cylinders.

“We’re going to need balance on offense,” Huffman said, “They will load the box and try to stop Jaylin Bradley because he’s a phenomenal player. So Joe and Co. are going to have to be able to throw the ball. The receivers are going to have to catch it, do some things with the ball after the catch and then defensively we’re gonna have to stop the run. When they do dial up their play action passes our [defensive back] are going to have to make the play, which we have full confidence they will.”

Although initially this year looked like a year to regroup for the Thunderbirds after they lost three All-State skill position players, Huffman’s confidence in his team never wavered. Huffman has instead taken this team to unprecedented heights, as he will wrap up his fourth season with a championship appearance.

The honor humbles him as he takes the pressure in stride.

“You know, it’s special.” Huffman said. “Bellevue West has been known for some good football for a long time. For years and years Coach Faiman–the field’s named after him for a reason. So it means a lot to finally get a group of kids to get past that playoff jinx and be able to continue and finish our season at Memorial Stadium.”