Ken Leighton 5 p.m., Jan. 24
Expectations are high at Helix every season. After losing only four starters last year, expectations are even higher for the Highlanders entering the 2011 season.
“We’ll see if we’re a team of destiny or not,” said Helix head coach Troy Starr. “There’s a lot of really good Helix teams, but you want to separate yourself from being a really good Helix team and that’s measurable. You have to win at the end.”
In 2010, Helix went undefeated in the regular season and earned the top seed in Division II. The Highlanders were upset by Oceanside 24-17 in the semifinals, however, and fell short of Qualcomm Stadium.
“Last year we were kind of heartbroken because we had a perfect season and we came up short,” said Helix senior linebacker Gary Thompson. “We started working out and using that to motivate us.”
Helix’s players started working towards the 2011 season in January with 6:30 a.m. workouts before school. Starr called the senior-heavy Highlanders an invested group.
“It’s always nice having a veteran team because they know their assignments, they know the concepts that you have and their football intelligence is usually higher,” Starr said.
Defensively last season, Helix allowed less than nine points per game and pitched three shutouts. Despite losing lineman Sam Meredith (San Diego State) and defensive back Kenny Keys (UNLV), Thompson expects the Highlanders’ defense to be every bit as staunch this season.
“We lost some key players but the majority of the defense is returning, so we’re hoping we’ll come out just like we did last year,” Thompson said. “We come out here and do our assignments, do our jobs and let the chips fall.”
Along with Thompson, Helix returns three All-CIF selections from last season: senior linebacker Kacy Smith, junior lineman William Milo, and senior defensive back Jimmy Pruitt. The Highlanders’ defense should be a scary proposition for opposing offenses again this season.
“Great defenses are personnel based,” Starr said. Personnel makes a defense.”
On offense, senior quarterback Brandon Lewis (2,239 yards, 29 touchdowns in 2010) leads a healthy contingent of returning players. The talent surrounding Lewis includes senior running back Darrion Hancock, and senior receivers Pruitt and Cameron Lee.
“We have a lot of experience on our team, so we’re hoping we can use that to our best ability and have a good season,” Thompson said.
Starr said he also expects juniors Tyree Hunter, Michael Adkins and Kendal Keys to have an impact on both sides of the ball after each saw limited action last season. On a team loaded with talent, Starr said leadership is still an issue entering the season.
“To have a great team you usually need great leaders and the leadership is a question,” Starr said. “Hopefully that will come through.”
Second-ranked Helix opens the season Friday at home against No. 3 Eastlake in an early season showdown. The Highlanders’ season opener could be one of the best games of the entire season.
“I’m very excited. They have their whole team returning, we have our whole team returning, so it should be a good game,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be a tough game for us.”
Helix’s preseason schedule includes back-to-back games against defending section champions, playing at Vista on Sept. 9 and hosting Cathedral Catholic at home on Sept. 16. The Highlanders also face Venice High in Los Angeles, Mount Miguel and West Hills before beginning Grossmont Hills League play on Oct. 21.
“We’re pretty excited,” Thompson said. “It’s our last year and we want to come out here and give it our all.”
Helix senior quarterback Brandon Lewis