Henderson’s Dickey Meeks needed about a split second to entertain the question: “What’s the strength of your team?”
And without hesitation, the longtime head football coach replied “depth.”
“It’s definitely the deepest team we’ve had,” Meeks said Tuesday afternoon.
That’s coming from a guy whose program captured a state championship two seasons ago and returned to the semifinals in 2011. Depth was no doubt needed to pass the rigors of both seasons and play a combined 29 games.
“Depth-wise, there’ve been a couple of places where injuries really hurt us,” Meeks continued. “Now I think we could probably come through it.”
It appears Henderson will be serious a contender yet again.
On Monday, the Lions began preseason practice to prepare for what they hope will be another memorable season. Thirty seniors were there and ready to begin their final push towards state, which included more than 20 returning lettermen.
One noticeable absentee was all-state starting quarterback Del Barnes, who graduated last spring and is now going to school at Cornell University. On hand were five returning starters on offense and six on defense from an 11-3 squad, which finished the season in the 3A Division I semifinals.
Three quarterbacks will be battling to take Barnes’ place — senior Jansen Moore, junior Connor Dodson and sophomore Zane Boles — this month leading up to the season opener. All three give the Lions positive qualities and will get playing time this fall, no matter the positions they end up filling.
“Moore probably has a little bit more experience and has good foot speed,” Meeks said. “Dodson is an all-around athlete as far as everything. And Boles is 6-5 and weighs 205 pounds.”
Elsewhere on offense, the Lions return an Air Force Academy pledge in three-year starting offensive lineman Nick Siler (has added 75 pounds to his frame since 2010) and continue to use a platoon of running backs. Perhaps the most talented skilled position player is senior Patrick Brown, who found the end zone in just about every way imaginable last season.
Defense is where the Lions expect to be most fierce, thanks to the return of all-state lineman Bo Brady (116 tackles, 16 sacks in ’11) and a host of others that includes linebackers Jamaal Kind (121 tackles) and Marquez Walton, plus defensive lineman Brandon Armstrong and cornerback Tre’ Phillips, among others.
Although the quarterback spot remains in question, Henderson has the overall depth to make the transition from 2011 to 2012 rather smoothly. On top of that the Lions simply know how to win.
“I think the expectations are higher,” Meeks said. “I think the kids know what it’s like to have had those years and know what it’s like to have had those years and know what it’s going to take to get back there.