The Willow Canyon High School football team will get an early opportunity this season to be a prime-time player.
The Wildcats make the first TV appearance in school history when they visit Westview in the season opener for both schools on Aug. 26.
“We’re all pretty excited about it,” Coach Mike Hudnutt said of the Thursday night game, which will be broadcast on Cox Channel 7. “I received a call to see if we’d be interested in moving the date of our opener to accommodate TV and it seemed like a great opportunity for our program.”
The opener also will give the Wildcats an early chance to erase the disappointment from last year’s 5-5 campaign, the school’s first non-winning season in three years.
“It was a frustrating year for us,” said Hudnutt, who led the Wildcats to back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2008 and 2009. “We beat the teams we should have, but we didn’t beat the teams we could have last year.”
In four years at Willow Canyon, Hudnutt has established a program with a strong work ethic commensurate with his roots as an Iowa farm boy. Hudnutt eventually starred as an offensive lineman at Northern Iowa, where he blocked for a quarterback prodigy named Kurt Warner.
While Warner would later gain fame as one of greatest passers in NFL history, Hudnutt’s teams have relied on a strong ground attack.
Opting to run the ball has been a no-brainer at Willow Canyon since it means handing off to Garrick Shelton, who owns nearly every rushing record in school history.
The 5-foot-7, 181-pound senior obliterated his own school record with 1,806 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns last year.
“Our job is to get the ball in his hands,” said Hudnutt, who has a 23-20 record in his four seasons at Willow Canyon. “We should have a better passing game this year, which will mean teams won’t be able to put 10 men in the box to try and stop him.”
Shelton should play a more prominent role this year catching passes out of the backfield, where he made just one reception for 41 yards in 2009.
Getting the ball in Shelton’s hands will be the responsibility of Jordon Stangler, who will handle the quarterback duties after splitting time as a starter last season.
“Last year was beneficial to me because it helped me improve my skills in reading defenses and also made me a better leader,” said the 6-3 Stangler. “I know all the plays inside and out, and that helps me be a better leader for my team.”
As a quarterback, Stangler plays a marquee position at Willow Canyon. However, his skills as a punter and place-kicker have attracted the attention of major college recruiters.
As a junior, Stangler had 11 touchbacks last season and set a school mark with a 61-yard punt against Sandra Day O’Connor.
Stangler worked with NFL kicker Billy Cundiff in the offseason and has been ranked as one of the top 75 college kicking recruits by one national publication.
“I know there are a lot of colleges interested in me, but my dad handles all of that,” Stangler said. “My dad made a deal with me that he would handle colleges and recruiting if I took care of football and school.”
Travis Abbott and California transfer Andrew Perez are expected to be key contributors as receivers. The 6-foot-1 Abbott made five receptions for one touchdown in 2009.
The offensive line will be anchored by William Hurst, who will move to tackle after earning second-team Northwest Region honors as a center last season.
Streeter Turner will be a key component on defense.
The 5-foot-11 junior tied a school mark last year with five interceptions, including three in the season finale against Deer Valley.
“Streeter will be our starting strong safety,” Hudnutt said. “He likes to hit.”
Another defensive standout is expected to be Ronald Oglesby, a senior linebacker who missed playing time last year because of injury and illness.
Willow Canyon also expects to benefit this season from a platoon system Hudnutt implemented because of the strong turnout for the football team. Nearly 170 players reported to campus on the first day of practice earlier this month.
Hudnutt also has reached out to a former college roommate to gauge his interest in a job as assistant coach.
“I called Kurt (Warner) and told him if he was looking for something to do since he retired, we could use a quarterback coach,” Hudnutt said with a laugh. “Unfortunately for us, his plate is still pretty full, even in retirement.”