Football preview: Ellis' Hudson steps in at quarterback
Published on -8/30/2012, 10:52 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
ELLIS -- As a junior, Blake Hudson finished second on the Ellis football team with 60 tackles and earned a reputation as a hard-hitting safety. He was one of the Railers' top playmakers in the high-octane spread offense with 24 catches for 327 yards and four scores. Hudson collected second-team all-MCL honors on defense and honorable mention on offense.
However, Hudson had little experience at quarterback. He threw one pass, an incompletion, in 2011. This fall, Ellis had to replace Riley Huniscker, an HDN Super 11 selection who led the area with 2,911 yards of total offense for a 5-5 squad that lost in the first round of the Class 2-1A playoffs. The coaches didn't name a new quarterback in the offseason, so every weekend in June multiple Ellis players, including Hudson, came down to the field.
They played catch and grew more comfortable with understanding the playbook, running routes and throwing the ball. The sessions helped bring an experienced team closer. Hudson saw big improvements in his own game, talked with Hunsicker, grew into a leader and wanted the job. The coaches never told Hudson he would be the signal caller and that kept pushing him.
"I kept working for that position and working, and working and working," Hudson said.
Hudson earned the starting nod and is expected to produce at a high level in the second year of the Railroader spread. He is one of many first-year quarterbacks across the area, especially on returning playoff teams. La Crosse, Plainville, Oakley and Smith Center are among Class 2-1A area teams that have new signal callers.
"He has improved quite a bit throwing the ball," sixth-year coach Butch Hayes said. "He is a much better passer. He has always been a pretty good runner. One of our fastest, quickest kids on the team, so we knew that he could make those types of plays with his feet. We just had to work on settling him down a little bit in the passing game."
Ellis, on a streak of nine straight playoff berths and six consecutive district championships, has had two constants under Hayes: a solid, aggressive defense and strong quarterback play.
"There's expectations at that quarterback position now," Hayes said.
Ellis has produced three first team all-MCL quarterbacks in the last four seasons with Chase King, Jacob Kinderknecht and Hunsicker. The Railers have averaged between 18.1 and 28.8 points per season in Hayes' tenure. The program has produced at least 264.2 yards of offense per season, including 340.7 last fall, best under Hayes.
"I would be glad to be the next Chase King or the next Riley or Jacob Kinderknecht, too," Hudson said. "But we also have a great line, so we could easily do that."
King, Kinderknecht and Hunsicker had strong leadership skills, and Hudson has emerged as a leader and earned the trust of his teammates.
"I am really no different than anybody else," Hudson said. "I don't want to look up as myself being higher than anybody. I want to be the same as my teammates. It's just someone that they can come to if they need anything, if somebody doesn't know the plays or something."
"They know that when he has got the ball, he is going to make a play," senior second team all-MCL linebacker Cadyn McCoy added.
Kinderknecht and Hunsicker were also the team's leading rushers. Last year, Hunsicker carried the ball 177 of the team's 288 carries, and rushed for 1,056 of the squad's 1,552 yards. This year, Hayes wants to have Hudson and senior running back Gage Younger (80 carries, 354 yards) share the workload. Hudson showed off some shifty moves in the scrimmage last Friday.
"If they need me to run the ball, I will run the ball," Hudson said. "If they need me to pass, then I will pass. It just depends, whatever the team needs."
One area to improve is turnovers. Hunsicker had a 21/16 TD/INT ratio and also lost five fumbles. Ellis committed 26 turnovers as a team.
"Smart, smart, smart," Hudson said. "Yes, that long pass might be there. You have got to risk it sometimes, but you have got to be smart, you have got to make the right plays; you've got to make sure that you can get the right read."
Hudson will have a strong supporting cast, including an offensive line that features second team all-MCL junior tackle Nick Gehring, junior tackle Skyler Tebo, senior Logan Fuchs and sophomore Brandon Groff at guard and junior Brody Douglas at center. Gehring, Tebo and Fuchs are returning starters, while Groff saw plenty of time last year, and Douglas moved to Ellis this year.
"We are doing a great job," Gehring said. "I would say there is not a huge difference (from 2011), but still we can tell."
Seniors Jared Mick (14 catches, 211 yards, two scores), Harley Wright (two catches) and Cole Pfeifer (one catch for a 12-yard TD) are among the top wideouts. The 5-foot-11, 145-pound Pfeifer has made multiple acrobatic one-handed catches, including several in the scrimmage. The solid supporting cast could help Hudson continue the Railer tradition of strong quarterback play.