MIDVALE Last season proved to be an unforgettable one for Hillcrest. But it ended up being unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.
From the time 22 players walked out of a practice and were subsequently kicked off the football team by Huskies coach Kirk Merhish, the fall months were defined by turmoil and culminated in a fifth-place region finish. This year's team has gone to every length to put that ugly episode behind them.
Some of them like senior running back Anthony Biven even used a creative flair in dealing with the past.
Biven wrote a song about how the Huskies are emerging from the dark cloud that obscured the program last season and will be a competitive team. He posted it on his MySpace Web page. The response his song received was overwhelming.
"The first day I put it up there I had at least 40 comments that day," Biven said. "Even (players) from different regions we're coming on my page and were like Oh, man I like your song. This song is tight. You guys better do good this year. I'll be looking for you."'
Biven and his Hillcrest teammates also are hoping to make some sweet music on the field this fall. Given that several starters are returning and the group emerged from turbulent times as a closer unit, the Huskies feel like they can be a bigger factor in Region 2 this season.
Defensively, the team's strength is at linebacker. Jesse Hudson was the team's leading tackler a year ago and should be even tougher after spending a summer at boot camp. The defensive line also has a pair of returning starters in Austin Neilson and Sean Choi.
On offense, Kolby Koplin will have the quarterback job to himself after splitting time under center with Lucas Li last season. Joining him in the backfield are Biven and Mike Callahan. Kyle Maughn, known more for his basketball prowess, will give the Huskies an option at receiver.
Li will anchor a secondary peppered with new faces including fellow juniors Matt Augustyn and Danny Thompson. Merhish expects big things out of the trio.
The players also expect big things out of themselves.
"With how much skill we have, we have so much opportunity to go as far as we want, as long as we work hard in the offseason and work hard during the season," Augustyn said.
Merhish feels like his team can be successful, largely because so many players matured through being thrown into the fire in 2007. Instead of turning to bunch of newcomers from the junior varsity ranks, he has a broad core with varsity experience to draw from."I know I've got a good core of kids," Merhish said.
Hillcrest Huskies 2008
COACH: Kirk Merhish (4th year)
KEY PLAYERS: On defense with Jesse Hudson (LB), Sean Choi (DE) and Austin Nielson (OL/DL) leading the way. On offense, the Huskies look for big things from Kolby Koplin (QB), Anthony Biven (RB) and Mike Callahan (FB). Keith Olsen (TE/DE) is back after a one-year absence and may be a breakout player on both sides of the ball. Kyle Maughn (WR) could be a difference maker downfield.
QUESTION MARK: Hillcrest played under a cloud of adversity after last season's walkout. 1/8 1/8 Can they put the past behind them well enough to be more of a contender in the region?
PREDICTED REGION 2 FINISH: Sixth.
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: Hillcrest faces an uphill battle to become a contender in Region 2. Returning several starters helps, but Hillcrest is probably at least a year away from postseason.