Building on Productive, Energetic Preseason, Hun Football Tops Brunswick School in Opener
ON THE MARK: Hun School football quarterback Marco Lainez III heads upfield against Brunswick School (Conn.) last Saturday. Junior Lainezstarred as Hun opened its 2021 campaign by defeating Brunswick 31-14. He completed 11-of-12 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown and led the Raiders in rushing with 106 yards on 10 carries. Hun will look to keep on the winning track as it hosts the Salisbury School (Conn.) on September 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Todd Smith saw a lot of potential and great depth in his Hun School football team through the summer and preseason, but couldn’t exactly be sure what the Raiders would show in their season opener against a new opponent.
“Preseason has been great,” said Hun head coach Smith, who is in his eighth season guiding the program.
“The energy at practice has been great. Unfortunately we lost our scrimmage because of the flood and then we lost a couple days because of the flood, but the kids been resilient and they bounce back and they’ve been showing up every day working really hard. There’s a good energy amongst the group. We feel good about it.”
Smith and the Raiders feel even better about their season outlook after defeating the visiting Brunswick School (Conn.) 31-14 last Saturday. After falling behind early, Hun took a 10-7 lead into halftime and then pulled away in the second half thanks to controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
“We had a lot of positive things and we came out with the win, but yet there’s a lot of teaching that can be done off the film,” said Smith. “There’s still a lot of room to grow. There’s a high ceiling.”
Hun continues its new look schedule when it hosts Salisbury School (Conn.) on September 25. Brunswick and Salisbury are part of the New England Prep School League that Hun joined this year to fill weekends outside of Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) play that now includes just Blair, Hill, and Peddie. The Raiders also will play Suffield Academy (Conn.), Cheshire Academy (Conn.), St. Frances Academy (Md.), and Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) in their new league.
“We’re excited about it,” said Smith. “I feel pretty confident saying this is the toughest schedule we’ve ever had on paper. We’re playing a lot of likeminded schools with four-plus postgrads, outstanding reputations and outstanding cultures so we’re excited to see how we match up. We’ll go out there and get good film for our kids and let them show what they can do.”
The season opener was the first look at the new competition and this year’s Raiders team in action. Marco Lainez III, the junior quarterback in his second season starting at Hun, was efficient completing 11 of 12 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. Lainez also led the team in rushing with 106 yards on 10 carries.
“Marco coming back, and it being his second year in the program with the offense, he has really solidified a leadership role,” said Smith.
“And we have some outstanding skill position players. Owen Anderson coming back as a post grad for us was huge, and Ben Romano and Tyler Jameson at the skill positions. We feel really blessed to have a lot of familiar faces at practice
Anderson, a University of Illinois commit at tight end, hauled in a team-high three catches, including Lainez’s one touchdown pass. Ahmad Dixon is the top returning running back after he ran for more than 300 yards in four games last year. He rushed 10 times for 66 yards and a touchdown Saturday.
The backfield gets even deeper with newcomers J.T. Goodman and Kamar Archie, a highly touted freshman from Ewing. Owen Wafle returns and while he could make a bigger impact on defense, he can make an impact at fullback as well. Hun added more weapons with jack-of-all-trades Dante Barone and post grad Jake Lezzer.
“Our new kids have been great,” said Smith. “We’ve really struck gold with a lot of these kids, and they’ve come in and just really bonded with our kids. We’re all headed in the same direction. It’s a lot of ‘we’ and not so much ‘me.’ The kids are really working hard for each other and feeding off each other’s tempo and momentum that we’re creating every day at practice. They’re picking each other up, they’re challenging each other, they’re making each other better.”
Goodman had two catches for 37 yards, and rushed eight times for 54 yards and a touchdown. Barone had a pair of catches for 31 yards. Sean Childs ran five times for 36 yards and a touchdown. Hun stayed with its run game and mixed in play-action pass even as it rallied from the early deficit.
“We told the kids up front no matter what happens we were going to stick with the game plan,” said Smith.
“We fell down pretty quick and then we battled back. At halftime, it was 10-7 and we really just wanted to establish a tone for the physicality of the season with the run game. We thought we did a good job of that and in the second half we really took over the line of scrimmage.”
Will McManus gave Hun the 10-7 lead on a 42-yard field goal late in the second quarter. The kicker gives the Raiders another offensive weapon. He also punted twice with a long of 52 yards, and the defense did the rest. Childs and Jake Lezzer recorded interceptions to end Brunswick possessions.
“We dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage,” said Smith. “We limited them to eight plays on offense in the second half. We totally dominated the time of possession, field position and we capitalized on a couple turnovers. Two interceptions on their end gave us good field position and we turned it into points.”
The offensive line features returners Jacob Allen, Jake Bingham, Greyson Brockriede, and David Seigel back. Hun has a strong core to build around, plus brought in several promising new pieces. The result is a team that has talent top to bottom and is anxious to show it.
“The prep school thing kind of goes in cycles,” said Smith. “Some years you have a lot of newcomers and some years you don’t have a lot of newcomers. This year we have a lot of kids coming back. We return four of the five offensive linemen and we have a lot of good depth there. We really like the offensive and defensive line.”
The defensive side of the ball boasts strength and depth with playmakers across the field, and will be aiming to get the ball back to its potent offense. The same key that has made Hun’s football teams in the past so successful is present again with this group.
“We’re always looking for special kids,” said Smith. “Our special kid in our offense is usually our fullback. We feel really confident that we’ve found two of those special kids this year. We have a junior Dante Barone, who can do a lot of things. He’s tough enough to play fullback, athletic enough to play tight end and wide receiver. We’re really excited about him. The other one is Owen Wafle, who’s a sophomore. He has really stood out at camp for us. He got our defensive MVP for preseason. He’s a really good playmaker on the defensive line, whether he’s inside or outside and he likes to bump kids when he’s on the other side of the ball at fullback.”
Hun went 3-2 last year in a disjointed season that felt like every weekend was in limbo due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It felt a little like last year’s unpredictable year when the Raiders couldn’t find an opponent to fill their open date September 11.
“We knew we had an open week and there were a couple teams looking for games but they didn’t want us to play us,” said Smith.
“I get it. On paper, it could be a little daunting. We were used to it last year going week to week, but having a schedule in place is good for preparation and we can actually have a real game week getting ready for a team on Monday unlike last year when we would find out who we were playing on Friday and go out and play on Saturday.”
Hun is looking for more normalcy and predictability to this year’s schedule. The Raiders already feel better after the way the offseason training went and the results against Brunswick. They are appreciating the full schedule ahead.
“We didn’t have a preseason last year,” said Smith. “We were kind of thrown right into it. This year we had the whole summer to get ready and the kids have been excited. For us, we’ve had to sit here for the last two weeks watching everybody else in America play football except for us. We’re just excited to go out on the field. Win, lose or draw, it’s a win we’re getting out there and playing.”
Smith sees the chance to use more of his roster this year than some seasons. The Raiders have confidence in the new and returning players. Their ability to use different combinations will make them a tougher team in 2021 as they look to return to being a dominant team if they can carry over the way that they played Saturday.
“The intensity with which the kids played,” said Smith. “They came off the ball well. We knew we were going to make some mistakes. We just wanted to make sure they were full-speed mistakes, and you could make up for your mistakes with the intensity at which you made them.”
In addition, Smith liked the way that his team reacted to a little early adversity and adjusted to its first game. Hun will focus this week on communicating better on the line, fine tuning their defensive alignments and sustaining the physical nature of their first performance as they look
to stay unbeaten.
“We told our kids that we had more functional and quality depth than we’ve had before, so we were really excited that a lot of kids had their opportunity,” said Smith.
“And it seemed like anybody that got an opportunity really capitalized and did the most with it.”