Carrie O'Connell 8 p.m., July 27
Season Preview: Helix Highlanders
Last Year: 13-1 (1st in Grossmont Hills, D-II section/state champions) Returning Starters: 4 on offense/3 on defense Top Players: OL/DL Amu Milo (Sr.), LB Rocky Fuga (Sr.), WR/DB Kendal Keys (Sr.), RB Michael Adkins (Sr.), WR/DB Tyree Hunter (Sr.), WR/DB Marquise Powell (Sr.) Newcomers to Watch: QB Josh Harris (Jr.), TE/LB Ruben Leasau (Jr.), DE Forrest Hanlon (Fr.)
Helix faces challenging follow-up to state championship
A year after its most successful season in program history, Helix is tasked with a challenging rebuilding effort. The 2012 Highlanders are counting on a host of new players to carry on the program’s tradition.
“It’s a huge challenge – this is a totally different team,” said Helix head coach Troy Starr. “It’s a new year and it’s all about this year’s team. We have a handful of really good players and a whole bunch of players that have to step up.”
After losing its opener last season, Helix won 13 games in a row on the way to a section and state championship. The 2011 Highlanders immortalized themselves as one of the best teams in section history during a dominant campaign that included nine running clocks.
“They were arguably as good as any team that has ever played in the county, and I can back that up with statistics,” Starr said. “Other guys can argue other teams and we’d be able to hold our own with anybody.”
A majority of the players are gone from last year’s team, including the CIF Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year. The 2012 Highlanders begin the season with untested talent on both sides of the ball.
“It’s going to be a good challenge – this time around everybody can stay and watch fourth quarters because games are going to come down to the end,” said senior lineman Amu Milo. “Everybody is after our heads because we’re state champs.”
In addition to Milo, Helix’s senior leadership will come from linebacker Rocky Fuga, receiver/defensive back Kendal Keys and running back Michael Adkins. Milo, an All-CIF First Team selection last season, said stepping into a leadership role during the offseason has come with a welcomed sense of pressure.
“In order for our players to develop a good mentality and work hard, we have to put pressure on them so they can get themselves together, get their minds right and focus on one play at a time,” Milo said.
Headed into the season, Helix is strongest on the defensive side of the ball. Milo and Fuga anchor the unit, while junior linebacker Ruben Leasau and senior defensive backs Marquise Powell and Tyree Hunter will step into more prominent roles.
“We’re younger and we don’t have the same type of personnel we did a year ago, but I think we can have a really strong defense before it’s all over,” Starr said.
At defensive line Helix is especially green, as freshman Forrest Hanlon will line up at starting defensive end for the Highlanders. The 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound Hanlon is in elite company in 2012.
“He’ll be the second freshman that’s ever started here and he’s going to start the first game,” Starr said. “He’s going to be a special talent.”
Helix’s offense will be led by playmakers Adkins and Keys. Adkins ran for 919 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior, and will see a heavy amount of touches early as junior quarterback Josh Harris develops.
“Adkins is going to carry the load for us,” Starr said. “He had some great plays for us last year and we’re going to put a lot on his shoulders right now.”
Helix opens the season Aug. 31 at Eastlake, the first of three ranked opponents to start the season. The Highlanders host Vista (Sept. 7) and travel to Cathedral Catholic (Sept. 14) in an arduous three-game opening stretch.
“We’ll know after our first few games where we stand,” Starr said. “That’s the nice thing about scheduling tough opponents.”
In spite of its youth, Helix still has high expectations in 2012. The Highlanders have great strides to make in order to defend their Division II section and state titles.
“We look forward to that – that’s what we came here for,” Milo said. “We came to play hard – we didn’t come back to sit back and relax. We came to work.”
Pictured: Helix senior receiver/defensive back Kendal Keys