SWEET HOME — This year’s group of Sweet Home High seniors has had a complementary role to last year’s graduating class throughout their time playing football, as coach Dustin Nichol describes it.
Now it’s time for this senior class to get their opportunity as first-string playmakers.
Tye Moore fits the mold of what Nichol is talking about. The senior receiver and cornerback has played primarily on special teams the past two seasons. He started a few games on defense but saw limited time on offense.
“It’s something I want to try to prove to the town and the coaches, that I could have been there, too,” Moore said. “Get my name out there and show them what I’ve got.”
Nichol calls the class talented but not yet tested. Many haven’t been the every-down players that the 2019 seniors were in many ways. They’re playing with chips on their shoulder.
“The challenge has been to try to get their chemistry and their timing and so forth up to Friday night speed,” the coach said.
Though not a senior, the same can be said for new quarterback Aiden Tyler. The junior played one game in place of now-graduated Colton Smith last fall, tossing four touchdown passes to Nathan Virtue, another graduated senior, with 274 passing yards in a 33-14 win at Philomath.
“He’s the real deal, in my opinion,” said senior Travis Thorpe, a running back and outside linebacker. “Good arm, really quick and he’s very knowledgeable of the game. He knows what he’s doing. He’s going to be a very big impact on the team.”
Added Nichol: “We’re excited about him coming in and what he brings to the table.”
Virtue left a significant hole to fill as a first team all-state linebacker and a league defensive player of the year.
Leading the way up front will be an offensive line with experience: senior left tackle Sevin Carson, senior left guard Iakona Howerton, junior center Jake Fanning, junior right guard Tucker Weld and sophomore right tackle David McMullen.
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Thorpe is part of a running back committee that also includes fellow seniors Gavin Nichols and Jackson Royer.
Seniors Moore, Zach Luttmer and Peyton Ullrich and juniors Jasper Korn and Cole Baxter are competing for wide receiver starting spots and playing time heading into Friday's Gladstone jamboree.
The Huskies open the regular season the next Friday, Sept. 6, at home against Marist Catholic. Sweet Home starts 4A Special District 3 play as defending league champion Sept. 27 at Sisters.
Marist defeated Sweet Home twice last year, 28-12 in the season opener in Eugene and 33-15 in a first-round playoff game at Husky Field. Sweet Home won every game in between but one, falling 44-21 to eventual state champion Banks in a nonleague game.
Sweet Home has another nonleague game with Banks, on the road Sept. 13, followed by a home game and rematch with Phoenix, a team the Huskies defeated 32-19 in 2018.
The Huskies won the league by a slim margin last year, getting past Cascade by three points and Stayton by one. Sweet Home went undefeated in league at 5-0 and Cascade was 4-1.
Nichol talked to his team after Wednesday’s practice about playing with confidence and toughness and having the commitment to help the program succeed. He was talking indirectly to his upperclassmen.
“They haven’t had to be the go-to people,” the coach said later. “My challenge is who is going to do that now?”
Nichol said finding those players and them performing at a high level could be the difference between being an average team or something more.
He says the strengths of the team are its unity, selflessness and that chip on the shoulder he hopes drives his players. He has confidence that his players are up to the test, but you never know.
“They feel a little bit cheated that those guys were in front of them … they felt they should have been playing, and I like that,” Nichol said. “Now it’s their time and they want to prove something.”