By Ray Hamill — The Fortuna Huskies have plenty of reason to feel excited about the upcoming season, as they get set to kick off their new campaign at home against University Prep on Friday night.
Over the course of last season, the Huskies were among the most improved teams in the H-DNL and rallied late in the year to secure a playoff spot.
They appear ready to carry that momentum into this season, and with a deep and versatile roster at his disposal, head coach Mike Benbow is excited about the possibilities.
“What I like is we have some pretty good team speed and we have a lot of diversity,” the longtime head coach said. “I’ve got some quick guys ands I’ve got some bruising guys. We can be a lot of different things.”
That diversity will be challenged right off the bat against a very good University program, and Benbow is expecting a battle.
“We’ve got our hands full,” he said. “They’ve got a good program and they’re well coached. It’s a good game one for us.”
The opening game is one of four straight here on the North Coast for the Huskies, who will travel far less this fall than in recent years.
After Friday’s game, the Huskies will host Arcata, play at McKinleyville and then play Ferndale in the annual Milk Can showdown under the lights at Husky Field.
The team’s only games away from the North Coast all season will be at Foothill on Sept. 22 and at Healdsburg on Oct. 6.
Benbow and his coaching staff also have a deep roster of 35 players, and they have steadily been coming together during the preseason, including a good showing at last weekend’s H-DNL scrimmage in Ferndale.
“I think that we are coming along,” the head coach said. “We’ve got a good core group back.
“I’m pretty pleased with where the boys are right now.”
That core group includes senior quarterback Chad Mussey, who is back under center and appears ready to take on a bigger leadership role in 2023.
Mussey also has been working out a lot with his receivers, particularly fellow senior Tegan Rumley, who had a breakout season in 2002, and the duo have built a good chemistry.
“Last year (Rumley) was pretty darn good, and he looks pretty darn good this year,” Benbow said. “He and Chad are best friends and they’ve been working hard, and I think you’re going to see a pretty special connection.”
Another player who should have a big impact this fall is junior Jake Houseworth, who was already one of the best players in the H-DNL as a sophomore last year.
Houseworth’s role will expand this fall and in addition to playing middle linebacker he will line up in a variety of positions on offense as the Fortuna coaches look to get the most out of his talents.
And that’s not all he brings to the table.
“Jake is like having a coach on the field,” Benbow said of the experienced junior.
Another player who is expected to lead the way on this year’s team is Ivan Moore, who will anchor the offensive line at left tackle and also has plenty of experience at the varsity level.
Fellow senior Caden Wilkinson will also play a key role at linebacker and running back.
“He’s put in a lot of work and he looks really good,” Benbow said of Wilkinson.
Overall, the Huskies should be among the best teams in the H-DNL this year and perhaps ready to end Del Norte’s recent run of dominance in the Big 4.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had so many tools and weapons,” Benbow said. “Like I said, I’m pretty excited about that.”
As for the Big 4, which doesn’t kick off until late October, Benbow is expecting a battle and believes it could be wide open.
“The Big 4, I think, is pretty balanced,” he said. “I think all the teams bring something to the table. After seeing everybody at the jamboree, it’s pretty wide open.”
Friday night’s varsity game is set for 7:30 p.m., with the JVs playing at 5.