By David Knox
TRUSSVILLE – No one is more disappointed than the Hewitt-Trussville head football coach that the 2016 Huskies didn’t finish the job they set out to do: Win the state championship.
Nevertheless, Josh Floyd led the Huskies to a record-smashing season and accomplished some firsts. And for that, Floyd is the Coach of the Year for the All-Tribune Football Team.
“Any time you get an award like this, it is a team award, for the kids and all the hard work they put in, but it’s really a staff award,” Floyd said. “That’s the way I look at it. I feel I’ve got a great coaching staff, feel fortunate to have the best group in the state, I really do believe that. They put a lot of time and effort and hours. Not just on the football side, more importantly, to help these guys become great young men one day. It’s definitely a great honor that I appreciate.”
The Huskies were prolific point-scorers, but they were more than that – they were winners on and off the field. And as such, the program began to make good on the promise it made when Floyd came aboard before the 2014 season – become a state, maybe even a regional or even a national powerhouse.
That first team went 5-5 in the regular season and squeaked into the playoffs on a tiebreaker but lost to a Gadsden City team it had earlier beaten in round one of the postseason.
The 5-6 mark and one-and-done in the postseason was the same as the season before, but the Huskies allowed a school-record 369 points.
But to use a term you may have heard, it’s a process.
Season 2 was a step forward, led by Zac Thomas at quarterback and running back Jarrion Street and linebacker Bailey McElwain. Still there were disappointments; a 38-0 loss to Hoover that ended a three-game winning streak and Thomas’ high school career to a broken leg. Without their three-year starter, a 53-35 loss to Clay-Chalkville and a 22-0 loss to James Clemens in the playoffs weren’t unexpected. The Huskies took their 6-5 record, their first winning season since 2011, to the offseason with thoughts of what might have been.
But Floyd and his staff was bringing about a change, even if it only showed in glimpses, like the narrow 31-28 loss to a strong Spain Park team, like holding the lead in the third quarter against Clay-Chalkville even without Thomas.
It certainly showed at the USA Football 7-on-7 National Championship in July.
The Huskies rolled through pool play and were eliminated by a single point in double-overtime by host Hoover to finish in the top 12.
The return of 15 starters, the addition of Mountain Brook transfer Connor Adair at quarterback and the work in the weight room was beginning to pay off.
“We had a lot of key guys back from a pretty good 2015 team but the injury bug hit us late and we were thin,” Floyd said. “So I thought our depth would be better this year and that was a big thing.
“And this summer, seeing Connor throw the ball like he did in 7-on-7, that really gave me a lot of confidence. I knew we’d have a chance to put some points on the board. Overall, so much of it is about the quarterback in this offense and Connor was so accurate back in the summer. That’s what I thought, if we keep this up, we’re going to be hard to stop and I think that propelled us to a great year.”
It showed right away as Hewitt opened with a 33-24 win over Montgomery Bell on a rainy night in Nashville and then the national breakout continued with a 78-56 win over Manatee of Bradenton, Fla. The offense clicked on all cylinders. Grayson Cash blistered the Hurricanes for 227 yards rushing and four touchdowns and caught two scoring passes.
Although it seems like a no-brainer now, Cash was a receiver as a sophomore, a starting safety who played some running back, behind Street, as a junior, so it was not clear he’d be the explosive offensive weapon he became. In fact, his college choice, UAB, recruited him as a safety.
But let’s give some credit to Floyd and staff for that decision.
“Yeah, I guess that worked out,” Floyd said. “He is such a reliable guy, you can’t put a price on that. What made him special is, for our system, he’s the perfect guy who can do both, he can run the football and he’s one of our best receivers.”
Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t on many people’s radar either. Some suggested he was just a straight-ahead speed guy.
But Floyd took the sprinter and jumper and added him to the running game, on sweeps, at running back and at wildcat.
How’d that move work out? Well, he caught 55 passes for 712 yards and eight touchdowns as a receiver. But the hard running Floyd had seen in the spring generated 94 carries for 751 yards and 10 touchdowns, including the team’s long run of the year, 67 yards. He had a team-best 7.99 yards-per-carry average and the most receptions, 55.
“I think that was one of the keys to our whole season, being able to give him the ball in those situations. We knew he’d see double and even triple coverage. I told our coaches we need to get him touches. Running him, I think, was one of the best things we did all season.”
The Huskies raced through the rest of the season, sweeping Region 4 with Huntsville-area powers Bob Jones and James Clemens and nemesis Gadsden City. Floyd led them to the school’s first perfect regular season at 10-0; their first Class 7A region championship; school records for points in a game, 78 vs. Manatee, and in a single season, 552. They accumulated 5,952 yards of total offense, another school standard. They led Class 7A in scoring with a 46.0 average, and despite the 56 points allowed to Manatee, gave up 24.1 points per game – a second straight season of lowering that average.
They entered the playoffs rolling, topping Oak Mountain 63-21. But then came the heartbreaking 29-28 decision to Gadsden City, a team it had beaten by two touchdowns earlier. The Huskies led the quarterfinal playoff game 28-16 in the fourth quarter, but a blocked field goal, a fumbled kickoff and a Gadsden fourth-and-12 conversion for a score shocked the Huskies.
Though it didn’t end the way the Huskies wanted, Floyd has shown that the Huskies can indeed compete with the best of Class 7A, and for that, he is our Coach of the Year selection.