When Clay Wargo thinks back to his sophomore season on Huntingtown’s football team, there aren’t a ton of great memories from the 10 Friday nights that comprised that regular season.
“The way I see it, starting from the beginning, it seemed nothing could go right for us,” he said of the 2017 campaign, a season in which the Hurricanes mustered a 2-8 record.
But everything changed in 2018. Huntingtown opened with a 31-7 win over Patuxent and then followed up with shutouts of Lackey, Calvert and Leonardtown in succession. It was officially a new day.
“The next season it just seemed things started turning around,” said Wargo, referring to last season. “Slowly it started to turn around more and more and it got to the point where it seemed like everything started to go our way. It seems like everything we had to go through is for now. Now I feel like we’re set up. ... We’re destined for greatness I feel like, after what we had to go through.”
After the tough 2017 season, which marked the third straight season the traditionally strong Hurricanes program has missed the playoffs, Huntingtown was 10-3 and advanced to the Class 3A state semifinals last year. And, as far as they’re concerned, there is no reason to think this year won’t build on last.
“It should be pretty exciting,” said Trent Connolly, who takes over as the team’s quarterback this season. “We’re coming off a semifinal loss and we have most of our team back, only lost a few seniors, so the season should be exciting.
“The potential of this team is as far as we want to go, really. We have a lot of the same people. A bunch of hard-working kids who have been in the weight room all summer. Everybody has the right mindset, everybody has bought in. Wherever we want to go is up to us.”
Huntingtown did graduate a rather healthy number of All-Conference caliber players from last year’s squad, but Hurricanes head coach Paul Friel feels those trying to plug the holes should be up to the task, collectively.
“Obviously there are holes in the secondary and linebacker and a D-line spots,” he said. “Offensively we’re replacing a quarterback, a running back and a couple linemen. Those roles are very, very important, but the guys who have filled in have done very well. We still have a lot of work to do, but they can write their own story if they keep doing what they’re doing. I think the potential is there to have just as good a season or better if we keep working that way. ... It’s pretty balanced right now. We have pretty good athletes everywhere. Our receivers are catching the ball and our quarterbacks are going through the progressions the way they’re supposed to.”
The Hurricanes surrendered double digits in just two games a year ago — in a 31-6 loss to eventual 4A runner-up North Point and a 21-10 loss to Baltimore County’s Franklin in the 3A semifinals — and shut out six opponents in the regular season.
Entering the regular season’s final week, Huntingtown did stumble in an 8-3 loss to St. Charles that forced the Hurricanes to go on the road in the playoffs. But after the misstep the team regrouped to defeat Potomac of Prince George’s County 28-6 and then topped Northern 20-7 in the 3A South final, all of which left provided an education the returning players will benefit from this year.
“We’re doing really well. We’re coming together better than we did that year. Hopefully we’ll make the progression to state final this year,” senior Josh Stokes said. “It gave us more focus. We’re more of a team now. We’re jelling and we see that we can do it. We have that mentality that we’re coming for everything.”
With Friel now in his fourth year at the program’s helm, there are no secrets as to what the expectations are. Last year’s results appeared to show the Hurricanes turning the corner to again reclaim their spot as one of the top teams in SMAC and, hopefully, beyond.
“It’s a great group of kids that is working well together,” Friel said. “They have a great work ethic and know what we’re trying to do. It’s not like teaching from scratch. A lot of them return from last year and already know the basis of what we’re trying to do.”
And at this point, last year is last year. In Wargo’s mind, this year’s team has the ability to take it much further.
“Honestly the way I feel this year is I feel like we have more potential than we did last year because the team this year is more together than the team last year was at any point,” he said. “The team last year was very together, but this year we’re really on the same page. We have a complete goal after really seeing what we could do last year and seeing what we have now. Everybody has come together and we have an ultimate goal.”