Jacks head to Texas for tough season opener

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Photos by Thomas Allie/HSU Athletics

On the 50th anniversary of the school’s famous Camellia Bowl victory over Fresno State, the Humboldt State Lumberjacks will play their final season of football beginning Saturday.

That’s 10 more games for fans to savor (only four at home), in what is bound to be an emotional campaign both on and off the field, for players, fans and boosters alike.

The Jacks begin play with a tough road matchup at MSU Texas at 5 p.m.

(Radio: Local ESPN affiliate, KATA 1340 AM and 92.7 FM — Paid Streaming: via the HSU and MSU Texas websites.)

The Mustangs are ranked No. 11 in the AFCA Coaches Preseason Poll after going 10-1 a year ago and making it to the second round of the national playoffs.

Things don’t get much easier for the Jacks in week two, when they travel to conference rival Central Washington, ranked No. 9 nationally in the preseason poll.

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Thomas Allie/HSU Athletics – Jacks head coach Damaro Wheeler.

First game in charge for Wheeler

Saturday’s game will be the first for new head coach Damaro Wheeler, who served as defensive backs and special teams coach for the Green and Gold since the spring of 2017, before being named interim head coach earlier this year.

Wheeler will lead a Jacks team featuring just nine starters returning from 2017, when they finished 8-2, including a 6-2 mark in Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

The Jacks are tabbed to finish fourth in the conference’s preseason poll released on Tuesday.

After four years of Robert Webber under center and Ja’Quan Gardner in the backfield, HSU will turn to Joey Sweeney at quarterback, and what the see as a talented group of running backs. 

Sweeney, who saw action in five games last season, impressed the coaching staff with his knowledge of the offense and his ability to execute in the preseason. 

But Wheeler believes that any of his three quarterbacks will be ready to step in at a moment’s notice.

“I think all three of the guys we have can play,” the coach said. “But Joey showed the most consistency so far. I have no doubt that whoever is in there can get the job done. He has great knowledge of his position and the offense. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I have confidence in all three.”

Junior Isaiah Malachi Hall is expected to make an impact at running back, filling the big shoes of the graduated Gardner, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers this week.

Hall saw limited playing time a year ago, featuring in all 10 games and rushing for 320 yards and four touchdowns on 58 carries. 

A newcomer that is also expected to carry some of the load is Tyree Marzetta. 

Marzetta played in 24 games for the City College of San Francisco from 2014 to 2106, and helped the program to a 2015 National Championship.

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Jacks have experience on defense

On the defensive side of the ball, the linebacking corps returns Curtis Williams, Connor Cox and Demetrick Watts.

Cox and Williams are seniors and both earned All-GNAC honors in 2017.

“All of those guys played a significant amount of downs for us last year,” said Wheeler. “We look to lean on those guys heavily. We also have Moses Finau, a freshman that plays like an upperclassman.”

Making matters more challenging for the jacks, the Mustangs feature a high-powered offense and a speedy and versatile defense.

They scored 40 or more points seven times and held opponents to 13 or fewer points on four occasions.

“Midwestern is a veteran group, athletic and physical with good size,” said Wheeler. “They are a well-coached group with some athletes. That’s nothing we aren’t used to from opponents in our own conference.”

MSU Texas defeated HSU 35-10 in the two programs’ only previous meeting in 2015.

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