FORT MILL — Like their Falcons nickname, expectations for the Nation Ford varsity football team are soaring this year and why not?
Coming off their first winning season in school history and two consecutive playoff berths, another first, expectations are high for the 2013 season.
Nation Ford opens Aug. 23 at Forestview in Gastonia, N.C. Its first home game on the newly laid turf field will be Aug. 30 against Boiling Springs.
“We got a great senior class and great senior leadership,” said Falcons’ head coach Michael Allen. “We got a plan to brings these guys along and find out who can help us. I feel like we are ahead of schedule. We worked hard in the offseason. I feel like we got a good plan and will keep working every day.”
Nation Ford was 7-5 last year, 4-3 in Region 3-AAAA. It lost 43-29 in first round of the playoffsNorth Augusta.
The Falcons lost speedy, double digit-touchdown receivers Dijuan Ussery and AK McCoy to graduation. Returning is starting senior quarterback Dalton Helms and they will rely more on bigger, bruiser-type receivers in senior Riley Hilton and sophomore Hank Tuipulotu.
Hilton was the team's third-leading receiver last year, catching 32 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns. Tuipulotu, a 6-foot-2 and solidly built, made 17 catches last season.
Those two will benefit from Helms' experience under center as they work the middle of the field. Allen says Helms has progressed from his All-Region 2012 season and is again expecting big things out of the quarterback who is being recruited in both football (interest from Charlotte, Richmond and Duke) and baseball.
“He is very confident and very vocal,” Allen said. “We look for him to do great things. He will play at the next level and we are excited to have him on our team.”
Helms said he can sense personal improvement on and off the field.
“I feel like I’ve improved not just on the field, but as a leader in the weight room and things like that,” said Helms, who threw for more than 2,400 yards and 22 touchdowns last fall. “We have a lot of freshman and I hope to show them the way Nation Ford football is supposed to be.”
Last season, Nation Ford had explosive after the catch speed in Ussery and McCoy, but that likely won’t be the case this year. Nevertheless, look for Hilton, Tuipulotu and others to give the Falcons plenty of chances to move the chains.
“The vertical threat isn’t a threat as much as it was last year,” Allen said. “So we have just moved from outside in, but we have great players in Riley and Hank, creating match-up situations inside and obviously we will be running the football.”
Over the past two seasons, many of the handoffs went to Daniel Jackson, who graduated, so the Falcons are now looking for a running back to take his spot.
“We will be running back by committee,” Allen said. “(Senior) Marquis Coleman is probably at the front of that group. (Senior) Andrew Bruce can also give us help at the running back position and there are several others.”
Allen, who is entering his third year as head coach, has passed off his defensive calling duties to new defensive coordinator Kirkley Russell, one of two new coaches for Nation Ford. The other new coach is linebacker coach Chris Fieldings.
“I’m finding my spot,” Allen joked. “I will be heavily involved with the quarterback position. I got hands on, but its new territory for me. I’m fitting into it. Everything goes through me to begin with. It’s something new to me, but I trust these guys.”
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