HUNTINGTON TOWNSHIP – The Huntington Huntsmen feel something in the air.
It’s a shift of some kind, but no one can pin down exactly where it stems from. It might come from coach Ed Yates, who was elevated to the head coaching position following the resignation of Scott Keller. It might stem from the excitement that comes from being on the eve of Huntington’s 50th football season. There might even be some excitement just from it being a new year in general.
But one thing is certain at Earl Knight Field – the Huntsmen want to leave a mark in 2022.
“We started this all way back in the winter,” Yates said. “Lifting weights, being disciplined and organized and doing what we want when we want. They’re used to not being as disciplined as I like. That's one of the big things that we're shooting for. I think that they're working hard at it.”
It might be easy to be pessimistic. The Huntsmen haven’t had a winning record in the Scioto Valley Conference since 2004, and they haven’t won the conference since 1986. During Keller’s five seasons at the helm, the Huntsmen scraped together an 11-38 record overall, and they won just four games against conference opponents.
But there’s a noticeable shift in the air this season. The Huntsmen are giddy for the schedule to begin.
“I think this season we're going to do actually better than what most people are thinking of us,” defensive end Ashton Lindman said. “We actually have a great coaching staff now. Hands down, by far, probably one of the best that Huntington has had.”
Yates is a familiar face to the program. He’d been an assistant during Keller’s stint, and now he’s been given the keys. There’s a lot to do in a short time frame, but Yates can handle it. He knows his players and his staff well enough to have crafted a plan as soon as he was promoted.
The head coach is also taking stock of the talent he can work with this season. Lindman and Dalton Black are both back for their senior years, and Yates expects the pair to be high-impact players on both the offensive and defensive lines.
The skill positions are also in good hands. While Noah Potter and Braylon Leach are both still gunning for the starting quarterback role, both are prepared to become a modest quarterback-running back duo. No decision has been made yet, but Yates has been impressed with both of their performances thus far.
Aside from Potter and Leach, the Huntsmen also have a pair of players working for a fullback spot. Both are upperclassmen with years of experience, and they will round out a roster that might make some noise in the SVC this season.
“I think if we stay healthy, we can do some really good things,” Yates said. “Now obviously I'm not predicting any wins or anything like that. I’m just saying that we’re going to be competitive because the kids want to be competitive. They’re hungry to do things right, and we’re trying to do things right with them.
When Huntington kicks off at home against Circleville on Aug. 19, it will also begin its 50th season of football in school history. The celebration for 50 years of football might be too much pressure for some players to take.
But the Huntsmen aren’t phased. They see it as motivation. If they want to turn their program around, they’re going to do it in front of 50 years’ worth of alumni.
“I personally see it as motivation,” Lindman said. “We have all these people coming out here just to watch us try to change this football program, which we are going to.”
It’s difficult to turn around a football program in just one season. The added weight of a new coach makes the task even harder. A loaded SVC conference makes a complete turnaround a near-herculean feat. Plenty of conference opponents have deep-seeded traditions of topping the standings. Huntington’s program is relatively young, and that tradition hasn’t set in.
But Yates is up for the job. If there is ever going to be a tradition of winning with Huntington, he wants it to begin with him.
“I don't know if it's ever going to be easy,” Yates said. “There are some teams in our league that are really strong, and they’re traditionally strong. Sometimes just giving over the tradition is tough, because Huntington doesn't have the tradition that some others have. So we're trying to build some of that tradition and get over the fact that some people have it and we don't.”
This article originally appeared on Chillicothe Gazette: Huntington feeling culture shift on eve of 50th football season