Herbert Hoover has a long road toward improvement following last year’s 1-9 season, but the Huskies do possess a perfect cornerstone to build around in senior tailback Ben Kee.
Having Kee back means Hoover is stronger on offense, defense and special teams, and his presence in the huddle also does the Huskies a world of good.
“Absolutely,’’ said Tim Meyer, who begins his 11th season as coach. “His [approach] is something else. Really, the biggest thing he’s done this year is that he’s prepared. He’s been in the weight room, conditioning, all that.
“And he’s really come a long way as far as leadership goes. He’s doing a heck of a job getting after the players in the right way, the way you want a leader to do it. He’s not one of those who says the right things, then loafs around. He’s out there giving 100 percent every single time whether he’s involved in the play or not. The second half of last year, he started grabbing that leadership role and really did a good job with it.’’
On offense, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Kee was the team’s working running back, carrying 189 times for 1,321 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns. He turned in six games of 100 or more yards rushing, and had two of 200-plus, including 204 yards against Class AA playoff quarterfinalist Point Pleasant.
On defense, he was the Huskies’ top tackler from his middle linebacker position, coming up with 69 individual tackles, 13 of them for lost yardage. Kee also handled Hoover’s kickoff returns, bringing back 17 for 357 yards.
Even with Kee back to guide the offense, Meyer realizes that the Huskies will again struggle if they don’t get better on defense. The offense averaged a fair amount of points, more than 23 per game, but the defense allowed nearly 38 per game in return, with four opponents racking up 50-plus points.
“We’ve made a big focus on improving our defense,’’ Meyer said. “We’ve spent a lot of time in the secondary, working with them, and a lot of time with the guys up front.’’
Meyer hopes the defensive line gets a lift from junior end Trey Chapman (6-4, 235), a basketball player who came out for football for the first time last fall.
“He passes the eyeball test,’’ Meyer said. “He definitely fits the bill. He’s 6-4, and put together well, a real physical kid. Right now, he looks about as good as anybody and he’s really practicing hard. He split time at linebacker last year, so he’s feeling his way around [the line] a little bit.’’
Meyer also singled out sophomore Caleb Bias (5-11, 215) as having an impact on the defensive line. In the secondary, he pointed to sophomore Nathan Harper (6-0, 153), junior Hunter Douglas (6-0, 160), senior Joey Belcher (5-7, 128) and sophomore Tyler Greer (5-9, 143). Junior Zach Paxton (5-11, 185) has shed more than 20 pounds from last year and returns at linebacker. Douglas had 33 solo tackles last year and Paxton 31.
Another key development will come at quarterback, where the Huskies must replace Rhett White, who made 21 starts beginning with the tail end of his sophomore season. Junior Nick Grayam (6-1, 210) is the heir apparent under center.
“He’s a real tough kid, and he wants to run the ball,’’ Meyer said of Grayam. “I think Nick’s going to do a good job back there. He’s another one who’s worked hard in the weight room and he’s a three-sport athlete. All through wrestling and baseball season, he’s in the weight room. He’s sold into what we’re doing. We’re real pleased with him.’’
Meyer said the entire team’s work ethic has been outstanding through the summer.
“We’re not getting a whole lot of kids missing practice,’’ he said. “We’re jelling in the locker room and on the field. Our kids are coming together real well, and they care about each other. That’s an important thing to have in any sport.’’