How they stack up
Outlook: Losing quarterback Dalton Helms and receiver Riley Hilton, who caught over 80 passes and played in the North-South all-star game, hurts. Nation Ford is fortunate to have ready-made replacements in both positions. Junior Cole Martin will step in at QB after playing several times last season when Helms was injured, and athletic tight end-type Hank Tuipulotu will take over Hilton’s mantle as the quarterback’s favorite target. They showed a good connection during 7-on-7s over the summer, and both should end up college prospects before the season concludes.
Their ability to move the Falcons’ offense downfield will be crucial for a team returning just seven starters. Only two of those come back on the defensive side, which might not be a bad thing considering Nation Ford’s stoppers allowed over 37 points per game, including 60-plus in a stretch of three games out of four. Allen said his team definitely had some personnel issues that it’s worked to overcome during the offseason, especially up front on the defensive line. Senior Ervin Lassiter was one player who moved over to the defensive side of the ball, and his length in the secondary should help the Falcons corral some of the taller receivers on their schedule.
Departed: QB Dalton Helms, ATH Riley Hilton, RB Marques Coleman, OL Josh Jacobs, LB Chris Harvell, ATH Andrew Bruce, DB Michael Allen
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Key players: RB Keshaun McClure, WR Hank Tuipulotu, QB Cole Martin, WR/DB Ervin Lassiter, WR Josh Shade, OL James Twedt, WR Colt Taylor, DB Keion Jones, LB Brady Hensley
Allen said: Helms and Hilton’s senior class won 23 games in four years, the most in the young school’s history. They also reached the playoffs and won the first playoff game in school history.
“They kind of set the standard with their work ethic and how they played, so these guys who are coming back that played with those guys, understand the level of play that we expect. Our expectations are still there; they’re higher and we intend for them to continue to be higher and higher year-in and year-out.”
Did you know? Nation Ford’s junior-varsity squad went 9-1 last fall, losing only to Northwestern. Allen is calling a slew of those players up to the varsity for this coming season. What they’ll lack in experience, Allen hopes they make up in confidence and understanding how to be successful.