SMETHPORT — The Smethport Hubbers are out to prove people wrong in 2019.
The defending District 9 Small School North champions, which posted a 9-0 regular season mark and reached the D9 title game a season ago, have heard all the outside noise on the step back they are supposed to take this year.
Now, they are just ready to get back onto the field and begin their quest for a repeat.
“I just want to prove people wrong that it’s not going to be as bad of a season as people think it is,” wide receiver and defensive back Bryent Johnson said. “I mean we are not going to be as big and as sizable, but we are definitely going to be faster and more athletic. I think we can honestly prove to people that we can go just as far.”
Of course, one of the questions surrounding the Hubbers is how they will replace the production of Nate Hollowell and Blake Kinner, two of the top running backs in D9 a season ago.
The two seniors split the workload out of the backfield to the tune of well over 2,000 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns.
Instead of utilizing the same offensive playbook they had with the two bruising rushers, third-year Smethport head coach Adam Jack is going to gear the game plan to the skillsets of a group of backs all 155 pounds or lighter.
“Those two guys were really great talents, but it’s just going to be a completely different look for us this year,” the former Hubber quarterback said. “You probably won’t see us running between the tackles 25 times a game, but we’ve got kids that are very athletic and they are going to do well in space.”
The Hubbers return starting offensive linemen Michael Tanner and Travis Cooney, who helped create those holes up front en route to Smethport’s best season in two decades.
They’ll also help protect sophomore quarterback Noah Lent, who got some time under center last season and has impressed Jack with his potential.
“I expect him to take on a leadership role being the quarterback, of course,” Jack said. “I expect him to elevate his game and basically get an opportunity to showcase his talents this year.”
Lent will get to work with two speedy targets at the receiver position in Bryent Johnson (5-5, 125) and Braedon Johnson (5-5, 135), who will catch passes out of the backfield.
The Johnsons, who are related to Lent, have been working out together for much of the offseason to further develop their chemistry.
“If you see us in 7-on-7s, Noah’s main targets are going to be me and Bryent because we have the timing down from all of the years playing together,” Braedon Johnson said. “Just always together and bond well.”
And while the new-look Hubber offense will have to find itself early in the season, the defense has the potential to continue its dominance.
Smethport returns six starters from a squad that allowed just 84 total points over nine regular season games in 2018 and then posted back-to-back shutouts over its first two playoff matchups.
The anomaly — a 44-7 loss to Coudersport in the D9 Class A title game — is what ended the Hubbers’ season.
“(I expect) the same thing as last year,” Jack said of his defense. “I expect us to fly to the ball and bring a lot of pressure to opposing offenses. And we’ll move around and do what we have to do and adjust week-to-week. We talk about playing in a 4-3 slash 4-2-5, but really we are not married to any defensive scheme. Whatever we have to do, we will do.”
Jack also said that he will take a step back from his duties calling the offensive plays to focus more on the defense. It’s a unit that boasts three starters back in the secondary, including Logan Christie, who had three interceptions and nine passes defended at corner.
Jack also highlighted sophomore Travis Cooney, who started at the ‘Mike’ linebacker slot last season as well as Tanner and Adenn Stevens up front.
Smethport has a favorable schedule to begin the season as they look to repeat as division champs. The Hubbers play two of their first three games on the road and the travel to Port Allegany and Otto-Eldred in Week 1 and Week 3, respectively, meaning no long road trips until the end of September.
The rematch against Coudersport is set for Oct. 18 in Smethport.
“I’m most excited for these young guys to get a chance to play and prove that there won’t be as much of a drop-off as we’ve been hearing about,” Jack said.
Of course, those young guys will be following up on the program’s best record in nearly two decades and won nine of its 11 games by at least two possessions.
And although the new faces are aplenty, Jack contends that this group already knows how to win themselves.
“The thing that I keep telling everybody is that this group that we have coming in right now has been competitive at every single level and they are competitors in other sports, as well,” he said. “They know how to compete and win.”
Joining Jack as assistants for 2019 are: Ryan Yingling, Jim Berlin, Joel Lent, Colby Austin and Kevin Lord.
THE RETURNING starters
Bryent Johnson, senior, 5-5, 125, wide receiver/defensive back
Michael Tanner, junior, 6-1, 185, guard, defensive end
Travis Cooney, sophomore, 5-9, 170, guard/linebacker
Braedon Johnson, junior, 5-5, 135, running back/defensive back
Logan Christie, junior, 5-10, 150, running back/defensive back
Michael Tanner, sophomore, 6-1, 185, guard/defensive end
Adenn Stevens, sophomore, 5-9, 250, tackle both ways
THE PLAYERS, by position:
Quarterback: Noah Lent (so., 5-8, 130)
Running backs: Hunter Lent (sr., 5-9, 155), Brae. Johnson, Christie, Kameron Rounsville (jr., 5-8, 150), Lucas Fowler (jr., 5-8, 155), Ryan Pelchy (fr., 6-0, 150)
Ends/receivers: Bry. Johnson, Damian Neubert (sr., 5-10, 140), Ryli Burritt (jr., 5-10, 145), Dalton Daryn (jr., 5-9, 130), Trevor Zuver (jr., 5-8, 135), Richie McDowell (jr., 6-1, 175), Nic Cummings (so., 5-4, 110), Brandon Higley (so., 5-10, 170), Ryan Sherwood (so., 5-3, 110), Trent Neff (so., 5-9, 145), Devin Williams (so., 5-11, 160), Zach Blauser (fr., 5-8, 130), Aiden McKean (fr., 5-7, 135), Jackson Faes (fr., 5-7, 130), Joey Neubert (fr., 5-9, 144)
Guards/tackles: Derek McClain (sr., 5-9, 215), Zach Persing (sr., 5-7, 160), Cooney, Stevens, Tanner, Kobe Calhoun (so., 5-10, 230), George Persing (fr., 5-5, 165), Owen Holmberg (fr., 6-2, 185), Brandon Tingley (fr., 5-8, 125), Seth Sanderson (fr., 5-11, 170), Hayden Bennett (fr., 5-4, 130), Jacob Knapp (fr., 5-8, 140)
Centers: Tyler Howes (so., 6-1, 250), Keegan Watson (fr., 5-10, 190)
Kicker: none listed
Ends: H. Lent, Tanner, Higley, Williams, Sanderson, Tingley
Tackles: McClain, Persing, Howes, Stevens, Calhoun, Watson, Persing, Holmberg, Bennett, Knapp
Linebackers: Fowler, Rounsville, Cooney, Neubert, Pelchy
Defensive backs: Neubert, Bry. Johnson, Burritt, Christie, Brae. Johnson, Zuver, Daryn, McDowell, Cummings, Lent, Sherwood, Neff, Blauser, Mckean, Faes
23 – Sheffield, 7 p.m.
6 – at Port Allegany, 7 p.m.
13 – Curwensville, 7 p.m.
20 – at Otto-Eldred, 7 p.m.
27 – at Redbank Valley, 7 p.m.
4 – Cameron County, 7 p.m.
11 – at Keystone, 7 p.m.
18 – Coudersport, 7 p.m.
25 – Elk County Catholic, 7 p.m.