Though the final score-line read a 38-9 loss, there is a lot of optimism heading into next season based on how the team wrapped up the season.
Junior sports are different than their professional counterparts in that the main focus (should be) more about player development both on and off their respective playing surfaces, than it is about wins and losses. Coach Adam Smith will be entering year 3 of his 5 year plan next season, and as he and the staff continue to develop these young men, the results on the score sheet might follow suit.
“We had a great group of kids” Smith says. “People don’t see it all, everyone just looks at 0 and 10 and focusses on the negative things. There are actually a lot of positives this season. We get nothing but compliments from opposing coaches in this league about how young we are and the solid core we are growing. Our guys just have to take the next step, put in the work in the off-season and get ready for next year”.
If that is the criteria, development over game results, then the most crucial position on the team is a great place to start our assessment of the season that was.
The Huskers had a very young quarterback lead them this season in Noah Falconer, and he made some tremendous strides as the year progressed. The 6’3 pivot out of Abbotsford finished with 1,677 yards, which gets more impressive when you see he racked up 920 of those in three of his final four games (vs. the Rams, Raiders and Rebels).
His favorite target on the year was #82 Blake Draper, who caught 43 passes for 487 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Jesse Deering also a reliable target, catching 22 passes for 344 yards. Both of those receivers are eligible to come back.
The Huskers offensive line allowed Falconer the time to grow late in the season. They held their opponents to one sack over the final three games combined. A massive improvement over the previous seven, where he was taken down 18 times.
The defense shone in the second half of the final game, holding the Raiders off the scoreboard, while getting to Raiders QB Liam O’Brien five times throughout. James Sturgeon with two of those, while Travis Dietrich recorded his 7th, Raphael Olivares his 6th and Connor Smith his 1rst.
Smith also finished with 50 tackles on the season and was named Team Defensive MVP.
Jason Ghag was one of the stalwarts in the backfield all year, nabbing a team high 3 interceptions and numerous other knockdowns. He was named the Most Inspirational player.
The Huskers also showed they weren’t afraid to take chances on special teams. They attempted, and recovered, an on-side kick in three straight games. In the final game against the Raiders, they faked a punt and had the first down, only to fumble to ball.
Utility man Ryan Beaubien had a memorable game against the Rams on special teams in Week 8, returning a kick to the house and piling up 104 yards in the attempt.
Cody Vinish, Chad Wiebe. Kyle LeBlanc and Jordan Tabin will all say good bye to the Huskers, having aged out.
The 2015 Husker offensive lineman of the year Leblanc says his favorite memories from his time in Husker green was the camaraderie and support he felt.
“All the coaches, all the support from the board down to the volunteers is what I will remember. Going 0 and 10, it was a hard year, yet our team stayed together through it all. We always fought no matter what the score was…we are all a family with everyone getting along and no fighting”.
Vinish was the 2015 Huskers Special Teams player of the year. He says there is one very special memory he’ll always hold on to.
“My first touchdown! I was in my second year of football, our QB at the time threw a seam, I caught it in the end zone…it was pretty exciting”.
As for Wiebe, he thinks there is a very bright future for the Huskers.
“We’ve got a lot of young talent. If they put in the proper amount of work in the off-season, I have no doubt they will be a very good team”.
Coach Smith talked about players that exceeded his expectations, from where they started to where they finished.
“Chad Moore, an Offensive Lineman was having trouble early on. Tough practices…hitting himself with his helmet (from frustration), couldn’t seem to make a block. Give him credit, he persevered, ended up starting our last 3 games and didn’t miss a block. Noah Falconer is another guy. A rookie QB, and his completion, reads…all got better through the season. He probably should have finished around 60% completion, unfortunately he had a lot of balls dropped. As a rookie QB, that’s impressive”.
One of the biggest areas the Huskers may address in the offseason is the run game. While recognizing the hard work that Jackson Ryan and company put in, the Huskers only accumulated 511 yards on the ground in 10 games (with Ryan pounding out 279 of them). In a conference that featured Jacob Palmerin (Broncos) and Nathan Lund (Rams), it is one area that could really help the Huskers moving next season.
The new chapter begins in May with Spring Camp.
Full list of award winners here http://hometeamsonline.com/teams/default.asp?u=VALLEY_HUSKERS&s=football&p=newsstory&newsID=51608