Balance has always been a major focus for Hickman football teams.
With a young team this season, though, coach Gregg Nesbitt and the Kewpies will be challenged to achieve it.
Hickman has 17 seniors on the team, which is considerably smaller than the 30 juniors on the roster. Nesbitt said the first few games are critical for a young team.
“I think it’s important for any football team to have some success early and start thinking you’re good; that’s half the battle,” Nesbitt said.
The Kewpies are good on offense when they produce a balanced attack. In the past, Hickman has had success when it has run for more than 300 yards a game and passed for more than 100.
“While that’s not balanced in terms of yardage, we felt like we were a balanced team,” Nesbitt said. “Balanced to us means we can throw or run when we want.”
Last year, Hickman struggled with injuries at quarterback and fell well short of 100 yards per game, averaging 39.4.
Howard Bouldin was scheduled to start last year, but he missed the first five games after breaking his right fibula in preseason practice. He came back to complete 43.8 percent of his passes as Hickman completed a 6-4 season.
This year, junior Blake Tekotte is expected to take over for Bouldin, who is playing at Southwest Missouri State University.
Tekotte missed most of last season after he broke his right collarbone during the Hickman Jamboree scrimmage. He threw one pass during the season, which fell incomplete.
Last season’s injuries have caused Nesbitt to be more cautious with preseason practices.
“We’re not optioning as much (in practice) and we’re certainly limiting contact on our quarterbacks,” Nesbitt said.
The defense also is looking for balance. Defensive coordinator Jason Wright said having a young team won’t change the plays he calls.
“When we put 11 guys out, it’s 11 guys that we trust,” Wright said.
With Brandon Milligan and Jeremy Monroe, last year’s leading tacklers, gone, much of the pressure will fall on junior defensive back Cedric Alvis.
Alvis is the lone returning starter in the secondary. He said it is his job to lead.
“Last year I was just that innocent sophomore … but this year it’s transformed because this year I am the only one coming back,” Alvis said.
He led the team with four interceptions. One came in the third overtime against Springfield Kickapoo, which set up the offense for the winning touchdown.
“He’s got a nose for the ball,” Nesbitt said.
Linebacker Adam Perkins and linemen Luke Harper, Kyle Nuelle and Scottie Guthrie are the other returning starters on defense. Perkins was second team All-State last season.
Hickman opens its season Sept. 5 at Pattonville. The first home game is Sept. 19 against Blue Springs. Four of the first five games are on the road.