As much as many people saw a tie at Lamar County to start the 2014 season as a step forward for the Howard football program, there was one negative Huskies head coach Barney Hester saw come out of that game.
Sure, the Huskies tied the GHSA Class AA runner-up from the previous season. But Hester saw the potential for more.
“We should have won; we were up 13-0 at the half,” Hester said. “Give credit to Lamar. They never gave in, and we were lucky to get tie. But our kids played well up there.”
Howard went on to a 3-6-1 season last year. It was the best record in program history by a half-game, but it could have been better had the four losses that were decided by a touchdown or less gone the other way.
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Finishing out those close games has become a focus for Howard, which opens this season Friday at the Ed DeFore Sports Complex against that same Lamar County squad.
“We were close in a lot of games, just couldn’t quite pull it out,” Hester said. “(The opener last year) kind of set the tone for close games. Hopefully, we find a way to win those close ones.”
The improved Howard team is the first in a string of non-region tests against larger programs for Lamar County, which had five holes to fill on its schedule and was coming off an appearance in the GHSA Class AA title game as the current two-year scheduling cycle was formulated in early 2014.
“We had to find five games, which is always tough to do,” Lamar County head coach Jamie Abrams said. “Coming off the success we had in 2013, it was hard finding games. We had to schedule some larger schools.
The Trojans (8-3-1 last year) have two more Class AAAA foes to face in Pike County and Mary Persons, along with Class AAAAA Ola and Class AAAAAA Alcovy, prior to the start of Region 4-AA competition.
While a repeat trip to the Georgia Dome or a region championship wasn’t in the cards last year, the Trojans put together an impressive season, losing only to Mary Persons, region champion Macon County and Class AA runner-up Greater Atlanta Christian. The Mary Persons loss was a close game that was called early on account of severe weather.
LJ Smith, who split time at quarterback last year with Noah Eure, is slotted to be the full-time quarterback this year following Eure’s graduation. Also returning is the Trojans’ leading rusher from last year, Juan Tucker, who ran for 1,155 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior.
“We’ve got experience at the skill positions, which we didn’t have last year, offensively and defensively,” Abrams said. “We’ve got experience at linebacker, which we didn’t have. Every year, you have replace some group, so early in the year, experience is the best thing going.”
Howard also has players returning at the skill positions. Courvoisier King returns at quarterback, where he passed for 776 yards and six touchdowns, while running back JaQwun Stinson returns after rushing for 579 yards and three touchdowns in a secondary role to Tahjae Morant, a senior last year who ran for 1,309 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“You never feel like you’re ready and have everything done,” Hester said. “But it is game time Friday, so we’ll be ready to play.”