Huffman sees potential in upcoming season

Nathan Hawkins, Broadcast Manager

The Thunderbeat Broadcast Manager Nathan Hawkins spoke with head football coach Mike Huffman to get his thoughts on the Thunderbirds’ 2017 season.

Q: Beginning this new season, you have lost a lot of the key talent that you had last year. What did those players mean to your team?

A: They show us how to get it done. Those guys were Playmakers in Purple to the true definition and it kinda shows our guys what can happen when you just let it all loose and go. So I think they’re good role models for our guys and I look forward to seeing who’s gonna pick up in their absences this year.

Q: At running back, how do you realistically find a replacement for Jaylin Bradley?

A: You don’t. I mean Jaylin Bradley is a once or maybe twice in a coaching lifespan type of talent. But we’ve got a couple guys, Jayvon Ducker and Justin Chaney that we think are gonna be pretty good football players. As long as our line develops, cause understand no back is good without a line, I think they’re gonna get plenty of yards.

Q: So you’re going to run a committee of sorts at running back?

A: Well not necessarily, right now Jayvon Ducker is the starter and Justin Chaney will get in there when Jayvon needs some breaks. If he can’t get it done then maybe we’ll split the carries more but as of right now we do have a clear one and two.

Q: A lot of talks around Nebraska is that Zavier Betts at wide receiver is going to be the next big thing in Nebraska high school football. As a sophomore, what will his workload look like?

A: Yeah and I echo that. I’m the one that’s been putting that out there. The kid is huge, he’s fast, and he’s got a good competitive streak. We’re gonna do what we can to get him the ball, but we also have three other great receivers which really makes it nice. If they want to double him, because way back when I first got here people were double covering C.J. Johnson, well, we have three other guys to throw it to. In the scrimmage last week Evan Kieser had three catches for three touchdowns. And we got Shane Smith, the kid from North, who is fantastic. Cedric Johnson is a two-year starter that played great in the state title game, so we’ve got a lot of weapons. But Zavier has got a skill set that not many high school kids have so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.

Q: Your scheme could obviously change up a lot, last year being more of a ground and pound–

A: No, scheme won’t change. Nope. I was a defensive coordinator for 10 years. My goal is to be 50-50 run pass. Last year we were 52-48. I scout us every single week to make sure that defenses do not know what’s coming. Will the yardage output look different? Probably. Last year was actually the first out of the four years I’ve been there that there was more rushing yards than passing yards.

Q: Well you had Jaylin Bradley.

A: Exactly. But the number of plays was the same. So my goal will be the number of plays to be the same but I would guess it would shift back to what it was the first three years where it was more passing yards than running yards. Scheme always stays the same though.

Q: Last year with Joe Dolincheck you had the benefit of teams stacking the box for Jaylin Bradley. Do you think Dolincheck will still be able to make those plays even though he’s not always going to have that benefit?

A: As a group of four, this is the best receiving core that we’ve had. We’ve got a fifth Radziunas, a sixth in Nate Sullivan, and a seventh in Tevin Tanner that we play almost everywhere else.

If teams choose to spread it out, then there’s not enough guys in the box, which will make it easier to run. And most teams around here, now that I’ve been here five years, we want to run the ball. So you’d have to leave guys in the box. Well then that opens up our receivers, and I tell Joe all the time, “Get it to the fast guys as fast as you can and let them make us look smart.” And more often than not, they do.

Q: Last year coming into the season after losing so many star skill position players, you still said this team can win. This season, do you think this team can come away with the state championship?

A: Absolutely. I brought that up to the boys. 13-0? I don’t know. But in Nebraska you don’t have to be 13-0. Two years ago Millard North was 7-2, and they knocked us off in the semis and they ended up 11-2 and state champs. I have a lot of respect for that, because too many times if a team loses they lose their self confidence, they lose their way. And I don’t want to lose any games, I’d prefer to go 13-0. But heck I wouldn’t care if we were 8-1, 7-2 and then end up going. This team definitely has the talent, and as those young kids specifically on our offensive and defensive line, as they develop we’re going to be a lot nastier in November than we are in September. So I’m anxious to see how they grow up.

Q: Does your team, and do you personally, feel added pressure after going undefeated last year?

A: No, every year it starts over. I think Dabo Swinney said it the best at Clemson, “Unless you’re returning every one of your players you’re not defending the title.” You got to attack the next one. Because we do have new kids, and I’m excited to see it. You have to assume that the kids that are returning starters will be a little bit better. I really believe that we have great program development athletically, strength wise, and then football wise. So I think all those guys that are returning will be even better this year. Now, the new guys. Will they be able to play with enough swagger? I love that word–we actually use that word a lot–will they be able to play with enough swagger? Because there’s a difference between swagger and being cocky. Being cocky you haven’t done anything yet. These kids, they’ve shown it in practice, they just got to do it on the field. In the Friday Night Lights, or in this case the Thursday Night Lights.

Bellevue West opens their football season Thursday, August 24 at Papillion South at 7:00 p.m. The game will also broadcast locally on KXVO.