It will not be the same hearing the Victory Bell ring without anyone in the stands, but that is exactly what Homestead is facing – at least for the first two weeks of the season.
But hey, having the Victory Bell is a feat in itself.
The Spartans captured their first-ever SAC championship a year ago, sweeping through the league with a 9-0 record. The reward is the Victory Bell that will be hauled around by Homestead for the season.
“It really is a celebration of last year’s team, but it is really nice to have for sure,” Homestead coach Chad Zolman. “Our goals remain the same even with the weird off-season.”
To be sure, the Spartans must replace production that left with the graduation of guys like Jake Archbold and Cam Rogers and the decision by 2,700-yard passer Luke Goode to focus on basketball.
But the cupboard is certainly not bare.
Two players that are arguably the best at their respective positions in the area return in running back Braeden Hardwick and wide receiver Jared Kistler. Hardwick was on pace to easily surpass 1,000 yards rushing before he went down with a season-ending injury in Week 7. Meanwhile, Kistler hauled in 35 passes for a team-high 677 yards and six touchdowns in 2019.
Brady Parker, Owen Hire and Sean Rice anchor a solid offensive line, which will be key as Evan Ormsby takes over at QB. The senior captured the starting spot after a competition that involved some underclassmen.
Players to watch on the outside at the wide receiver spots include juniors Gage Sparrow and Nate Anderson as well as senior Ethan Chambers.
While Zolman expects some growing pains offensively, he also believes that the unit has the potential to surpass last year’s group that averaged over 36 points per game.
Defensive standouts like Nik Martin, Rogers and Archbold have moved on, but the front seven, particularly the linebacker corps, has plenty of experience. First Team All-SAC honoree Luke Palmer (97 tackles, 14 TFL) is back in the middle, while Cole Etchison and three-year starter Ryan Burton will man the outside spots.
The secondary will be completely new, but Zolman feels he has hungry and coachable players on the back end that will settle in nicely.
While Zolman hopes his team can pick up where it left off in 2019, the fact of the matter is there are plenty of questions, not just with Homestead but every program in the area. The lack of much of a summer has prevented coaches from getting good looks at their teams against competition.
“We don’t yet know what we are good at,” Zolman said. “We are still kind of exploring and the scrimmage was our first opportunity to understand some things.
“We will be alright once we settle in.”
The reigning SAC champs have won 15 of its last 16 games against SAC competition dating back to 2018, with the lone loss coming to Snider in sectional play two years ago.
In other words, Homestead has been a force in the league in recent memory. There is some concern with the QB spot in transition, but Zolman always seems to find a guy who can throw for 2,000-plus yards.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
A completely new secondary is a bit concerning, particularly when you look around at other teams in the SAC and the deep-threat playmakers many of them have.
To be honest, you could make a case for any team in the top four of the SAC to capture the Victory Bell in 2020. Blitz had Homestead No. 1 from the preseason on a year ago. While compelled to go with them again, No. 3 feels like a good place to start this year.
Week 4 vs. Bishop Dwenger
A late Saints charge last season in Week 4 came up short in a game that looking back was one of the best of the year.
If Homestead is going to win back-to-back SAC championships, the road goes through the Saints, who bring back the most complete team (on paper) in the conference.
Evan Ormsby, senior, quarterback
From Zach Terrell to Logan Ormsby, Drew Keszei to Jiya Wright, Coach Zolman has been blessed with some talented quarterbacks over the years. But part of their success has been a system that caters towards QBs and their skills with a lot of timing routes and short to medium throws that have the potential to turn into big gains.
Ormsby doesn’t have to be a Goode or Keszei for the Spartans, but he does not to avoid turning the ball over and get the ball in the hands of the offense’s playmakers. If he can do that, Homestead will be just fine.
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