In his second season at Howard, Barney Hester wants his players to know something when they take the football field.
Sure, Howard is a program that has enjoyed little success. But the program is entering only its seventh varsity season, early enough for a fresh start.
That’s why Hester started a lot of sophomores last year, a two-win season in which a 24-game losing streak was broken.
“It’s getting kids reps, and it’s also making sure kids understand that, ‘There’s not a whole lot different between me and that guy on the other side of the ball other than our mental process, our thought process,’ ” said Hester, who won 306 games in 31 seasons at Tattnall Square and is No. 5 on the Georgia High School Football Historians Association all-time wins list at 324. “(It’s saying) ‘I’ve got to believe that I’m just as good as them or better.’ Our kids have to understand that that kid on the other side doesn’t put his helmet on any different than how our kid puts his helmet on.
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“It’s just a matter of us understanding that we can match up with anybody that we have to match up with.”
Part of the changes Hester started to implement last season was an overhaul of the defense. Along the way, a linebacker who was a junior last season stepped up and gave the Huskies some strong performances and developed some leadership skills.
Abel Grant, who also started under previous head coach David Cape, recorded 106 tackles at middle linebacker last season. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound senior is expected to shoulder the load on defense again this fall.
“He adds a lot of things to the defense at middle linebacker,” said junior running back JaQwun Stinson, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior who had 821 rushing yards last season. “He showed leadership. We’re going to look up to him.”
There were a lot of nights last season that were long for Howard, especially in region play, where the Huskies went winless. But there also were some successes.
A 20-14 win at East Laurens to open the season snapped the program’s long losing streak. A 12-6 win a week later at Henderson Stadium over Southwest was just the second win in program history over a fellow Bibb County program and marked the first time Howard had won back-to-back games.
Howard also gave Perry a fight in the season finale before losing by two points.
“This year, there’s more experienced people on the team,” Grant said. “I think we’ll do better. We’ve got more seniors this year. We’re used to Coach Hester’s coaching, and that plays a major role for us to handle business on Friday.”
That experience is what Hester will be counting on as Howard remains in GHSA Region 2-AAAA with many of the same region opponents as the past two seasons, minus Westside and Rutland.
“We are a better football team than we were this time last year -- there’s no ifs, ands, buts about it,” Hester said. “We’re a better team. We’re stronger physically, we’re faster than we were last year, and we played a lot of 10th-graders last year, started a lot of 10th-graders in skill positions and on defense, too. A lot of those guys are juniors now, they’re better. We’re a better team.”
HOWARD IN 2014
Head coach: Barney Hester (324-143-8 in 39 seasons overall; 2-8 in one season at Howard).
2013 record: 2-8.
2014 region: GHSA 2-AAAA.
Returning starters: 7 on offense; 5 on defense.
Players to watch: Clifton Tucker (5-7, 170, Sr., CB); Abel Grant (6-3, 218, Sr., LB); Tahjae Morant (5-7, 185, Sr., RB).
Aug. 22 at Lamar County
Aug. 29 at FPD
Sept. 5 vs. Central
Sept. 12 vs. Rutland
Sept. 26 at West Laurens
Oct. 3 Perry
Oct. 10 at Mary Persons
Oct. 24 Upson-Lee
Oct. 31 at Veterans
Nov. 7 Baldwin