The Hunting Hills Lightning have some holes to fill, but head coach Kyle Sedgwick is confident the two-time defending Central Alberta High School Football League champions will be in the running once again.
“We look alright,” he said prior to practice Tuesday. “We’re loaded at the skill positions, but do lack some experience on the lines.”
The Lightning’s biggest loss was quarterback and league MVP Scott Pearson, but both Jarrett Burzuk, who is in Grade 12, and Grade 11 Brett Barrett were with the team last season. Burzuk saw some action, completing six of 10 pass attempts while Barrett didn’t throw a pass.
“Neither one got a lot of playing time, but they both know our systems and played with the midget Prairie Fire this season, so I feel comfortable with both of them,” said Sedgwick, who will have a solid backfield led by Matt Russell and Jin Ahn.
Russell was second in the division in rushing last season to Miles Corsiatto of Notre Dame, finishing with 372 yards on 63 carries in four games. Ahn had 119 yards on 16 carries.
As well Ashton Hall, who led the team in receiving with 13 catches for 191 yards, can also play in the backfield as can Tanner Whitelaw, Evan Petriew and Linden Peterson.
Right tackle Levon Arden is the only starter back on the offensive line although guard Travis Imber was with the team last year and will be looked at to be a leader on both sides of the ball along with Arden.
“Last year we lacked experience at linebacker and our D-line made up for it early on and this year we expect our offensive backfield and linebackers and secondary to lead the way on defence,” said Sedgwick. “I know in 2010 we had experience at running back and not on the line and the backs were asked to help out the line until they got the experience. Same thing this year . . . we’ll be OK .”
Middle linebacker Kaden Deering will be an anchor on the defence along with Petriew and Whitelaw at the corners, Riley Gasser at halfback and Peterson at safety.
As well Grade 12 students Sam Smith and Cody Richards will be on the defensive line along with Imber and Arden.
“The guys have been working up to be starters and this is their time,” said Sedgwick. “We do need the line, on both sides, to grow up quickly, but we do have talent, all they need is some added experience.”
Sedgwick expects to start two Grade 10s on the offensive line when the Lightning meet the Stettler Wildcats Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Great Chief Park.
“It will be a good test right off the bat as Stettler has size, so it will test both of our lines,” added Sedgwick. “We’re not a big physical team, but we have quickness and we have a very intelligent group, who understand the game and the systems we run.”
The Lightning host the Wildcats in a non-conference game. The league is divided into two conferences with teams playing each team in their conference once and two other teams from the other conference in games that don’t count in the standings.
The Lightning, Notre Dame, Lindsay Thurber, Lacombe and Sylvan Lake are in one conference with Rocky, Ponoka, Camrose, Wetaskiwin and Stettler in the other division.
“We want to win this game, but we’ll also make sure we use everyone,” said Sedgwick, who feels the competition in his conference will be tougher than ever.
“Lindsay Thurber has a lot of skill and will be tough to beat while Sylvan Lake and Notre Dame are always right there and Lacombe was young last year and will be that much better.”
The Lightning see their first conference game, Sept. 12 when they visit Sylvan Lake.
LTCHS visits Camrose and Sylvan Lake is at Wetaskiwin on Thursday while on Friday Rocky is at Lacombe and Notre Dame hosts Ponoka at 7:30 p.m. at Great Chief Park.