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Hodson returns to helm of an energized team | FALCON SPORTS PREVIEW

Nick French whips a pass during a recent practice. The sophomore was tabbed the starting quarterback after senior Avery Buechner hurt his shoulder during football camp this summer. French described himself as an out-of-the pocket passer, whereas Buechner can run over and through defenders.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Nick French whips a pass during a recent practice. The sophomore was tabbed the starting quarterback after senior Avery Buechner hurt his shoulder during football camp this summer. French described himself as an out-of-the pocket passer, whereas Buechner can run over and through defenders.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

No more distractions.

Full speed. Contact.

“It’s game week,” implored Avery Buechner, the Falcons’ senior quarterback and safety, during practice earlier this week.

Falcon football is back, and so is co-head coach Mark Hodson after a year away. Hodson will call the offense; Andy Davis is in charge of the defense.

“With Hodson so happy to be back, it makes us want to play that much harder to show that even without him we worked hard,” Buechner said.

There are two main tasks laid out before the Falcons: play through the district playoffs, and challenge Archbishop Murphy. More than 50 players are in the football program, split between varsity and junior varsity, all with those goals in mind.

The season began Friday night against the Bellingham Red Raiders. Prior to the game, the team had several minor injuries that added up to a big problem.

All-Cascade Conference kicker Cameron Coupe has an ankle injury. He’s also expected to be a leading receiver this season, so healthy ankles are a must for both positions.

Nick French, the sophomore starting quarterback, hurt his ankle, too.

Injuries are part of football, the coaches said, but that doesn’t mean who gets hurt doesn’t matter.

“Unfortunately, Coupe is one of our best receivers and Nick French is our starting quarterback,” Davis said.

Buechner, an all-conference linebacker last season, hurt his shoulder during football camp earlier this summer. The night before the season opener, however, Buechner said the team trainers and physician figured out the problem and he was able to take snaps and make throws the past few practices.

Last season, he was an option quarterback who could pass or run.

“Avery’s kind of the trucker guy, he can run people over,” French said.

Davis said he expected a quarterback competition during the camp, and was thrilled at what he saw before injuries set in. With the players getting healthy, South Whidbey has options in the backfield.

“It was a great opportunity to show my stuff against a great quarterback like Avery Buechner,” French said.

Senior tailback Sam Lee has practiced taking snaps for option plays. Buechner has practiced under-center and taken shotgun snaps.

French, however, is still the starting quarterback with the prerogative to pass.

“I think the offense is going to be more diverse than it has been,” Buechner said.

The Falcons will rely on Buechner, who will play quarterback, tight end, safety and linebacker, to also lead the team.

Captains were not named, but seniors Garret Thomson, Lee and Buechner represented South Whidbey against Bellingham during the coin toss. They are expected to keep the team on track, on and off the field. Suspensions to a handful of key players stalled the Falcons midway through last season.

“It really hurt us,” Buechner said. “And when they came back on the team, there were some trust issues. A lot of people had some anger toward them.

“I think it’s brought us closer together, that everyone screws up and everyone’s forgiven.”

Lee and Buechner played together since they were 8 years old in Pee Wee league. Buechner said through hundreds, if not thousands, of handoffs, the tandem has never flubbed one.

“We have such a great chemistry,” Buechner said. “Sam’s so fast and elusive.”

South Whidbey will need that chemistry to extend to the rest of the team for it to achieve its second goal — beating Archbishop Murphy. It’s on the tongues of the players and the coaches this season.

“Them losing the people they lost, I think it’s going to be an electrifying game,” Buechner said. “I’m so excited because it’s my last year to try to beat Archbishop and I really think we have what it takes to beat them this year.”

The rivalry, though lop-sided recently, runs deep on South Whidbey. Davis told a story of how he can’t buy his daughter red clothing — that’s the primary color of the Wildcats. He envisions being a threat to the Wildcats’ place atop the conference, even though Archbishop Murphy beat South Whidbey 41-7 last season at Waterman Field.

“I want to have that game where we fight to the bitter end with Archbishop,” he said.

To take down the Wildcats and other powerful offenses in the league, South Whidbey has to defend better. The good news for Falcons fans is the coaches and players think defense is the most improved side of their team.

Mason Shoudy, Sam Denka, Beck Davis, Jake Leonard, Seth Eckert and Pat Monell will rotate on the defensive line to pressure the quarterback and stop the run — part of Davis’ “attacking defense.”

“Our front four defenders may be the strength of the team,” Davis said.

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