Lightning offensive veterans will need to lead the way
Offensively the Hunting Hills Lightning have all the ingredients to make another run at the Central Alberta High School Football League title.
But it’s on defence where head coach Kyle Sedgwick has a few worries.
“Offensively we have most of our starters back from last season, but on defence we lost nine of the 12,” he explained. “The big thing will be for some of the other returnees, and some of the new kids, to step up.”
Last season was close to perfect for the 2010 league champions as they posted an 8-0 league record before losing 37-10 to the Sylvan Lake Lakers in the championship final.
“We ran into some injuries at the wrong time,” said Sedgwick. “So it just shows how important depth is.”
The Lightning have four players back on their offensive line, including two-time all-star Bryce Johnson, who joins Devin Altheim, Kelton Jempson and Josh Larratt. Both Johnson and Larratt will also play on the defensive line.
The Lightning offensive backfield should be strong with the return to quarterback Scott Pearson, tailback Matt Russell and receiver Ashton Hall, all of whom played with the Central Alberta Prairie Fire midget team.
Pearson finished third in league passing last season with a 48.8 per cent average while Russell backed up Mark Beingessner. Russell finished with 365 yards on 65 carries. Hall was ninth in the league with 13 receptions for 143 yards.
Pearson has been sharp so far in camp.
“It’s a real luxury to have a returning starting quarterback and he’s taken another step forward since last year,” said Sedgwick. “His time with the Prairie Fire definitely helped and he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
The only new face on the offensive line is Grade 11 Levon Arden, who was a backup last year.
“The offence can be complicated, but having so many guys back is huge . . . we’ve already put in 90 per cent of our offence after only eight practices,” said Sedgwick. “The defence, on the other hand, has further to go, but then our motto on defence is to fly around and make plays.
“There are some big holes to fill on defence, but some of our new kids have looked good.”
Safety Logan Sinclair, Grade 12 linebacker Jordan Rathwell, halfback Austin Belan and Johnson are expected to anchor the defence, which was by far the best in the league last season, allowing only 59 points in eight games.
The Lightning play in a pool with the other two Red Deer schools — Lindsay Thurber and Notre Dame — Lacombe and Sylvan Lake. They also play a pair of exhibition games against teams in the other pool.
They opened Thursday with an exhibition game against the Ponoka Broncs, who are returning to the league for the first time in 30 years.
Pearson threw for two touchdowns while running for two more in a 53-0 romp over Ponoka. Russell also added two more touchdowns on the ground.
“I like the conference setup,” said Sedgwick. “We’ll see how it works this year and possibly down the road the two cross-over games may count in the standings . . . we’ll see.”
The Lightning host Camrose in an exhibition game Sept, 13 and open league play Sept. 21 when they host Notre Dame.