Bobby Hughes is in a much different place this year than he was this time last year.
The Howard head football coach was about to embark on a season of uncertainty, taking an inexperienced team into its first varsity season.
But with a year under his belt, Hughes has very different expectations heading in the second year.
“Making the playoffs is definitely one of our team goals,” Hughes said. “We are in a fairly competitive region, and the battles we have during the season better prepare us for those important region games.”
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The Huskies are unique in that all 22 starters return from last season’s inaugural campaign. Although it wasn’t successful in the win-loss column — Howard went 1-9 — the experience gained by a team largely composed of freshmen and sophomores was invaluable.
Howard became more competitive as the season progressed, beating Monticello 36-21 in week seven and playing Putnam County and Greene County competitively in losses in the second half of the season.
Hughes believes the way the Huskies played down the stretch was indicative of the team coming together.
“We started three freshmen on the offensive line,” Hughes said. “That’s scary for any team. Now, we have freshmen with 10 games of experience as sophomores. And they are bigger and stronger. The whole team is much more experienced. We didn’t lose anybody even though we had those growing pains.”
One of those key returnees is running back Aarion Palmer.
Palmer, who is one of the few seniors on the team, became the Huskies’ primary offensive weapon early in the season and stayed consistent throughout. Palmer rushed for 419 yards and two touchdowns and caught 33 passes for 454 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s a special player,” Hughes said. “His competitiveness and motor separate him from most high school kids. We asked a lot of him. He approaches work with ferociousness.”
Hughes said his team has become more balanced. Early in the season, Palmer was the Huskies’ only serious offensive threat. But the offense opened up more as the season went on and got quality play from quarterback Tyrone White. That balance has continued throughout the Huskies’ offseason workouts and in passing camps.
“The more time we can get on the field, the better,” Hughes said. “It’s just about getting some quality practice against some quality competition. That will help us in the long run.”