It is a year of change for the Oak Harbor High School football team.
Marcus Hughes takes over as head coach after Jay Turner resigned last fall after 11 years at the helm.
For Oak Harbor to remain among the division leaders, a spot the Wildcats held for most of the past 15 years, it will have to replace a deep and talented group of graduates. Gone are 17 letter winners, including seven who earned all-league honors.
Hughes does welcome back three who were second-team, all-Wesco North in 2018: senior offensive lineman Michael Gomez, senior defensive lineman Calvin Whelpley and junior running back Caden Leckelt. Juniors Brenden Andersen, Brecken Collins and Jake Mitten were honorable mention.
Other key returnees, according to Hughes, are senior linemen Nate Nunez and Justin Campbell, and wide receiver/defensive backs senior Gabriel Daggett and juniors Brenden Andersen, Chris Hoppock and Landon Cantrell.
Last year’s backup quarterback junior Cameron Asinsin moves up to first team.
Newcomers who are expected to fight for playing time are seniors Jacob Bevil (OL/DL) and Marcus Arriola (WR/DB); juniors Nathan Hummel (TE/DL), Dominic Dean (WR/DB), Matt Kelley (WR), Aiden Schofield (WR), Ethan Decherong (LB), Ezra Decherong (LB), Colby Walter (WR/DB), Tristan Wasden (WR/DB); and sophomores Nolan Byng (TE/DL), Jackson Higman (OL) and John Leete (OL/DL).
Hughes noted “there are always kids I miss” when mentioning players who will contribute. “(I) know there will be some other guys rising up this year.”
Hughes is looking for big things from his crew.
“Our expectations for the season are to be competitive and be in the hunt for the conference championship and make the playoffs,” Hughes said. “There is a major adjustment period to the new schemes on ‘O’ and ‘D,’ and I expect us to get better every week as long as we stay healthy.”
The Wildcats are switching to a multiple spread offense after running the wing T for over a decade.
This is a “challenge,” Hughes said, adding, “We have some great athletes and we will continue to improve on skill development.”
Oak Harbor (7-3 last year; 4-2 and second in the Wesco North) hosts Seaquam Secondary School from Delta, B.C., at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6. The Wildcats beat Seaquam, the 2016 provincial champions, 48-19 in the season opener last year in Delta.