by Cliff Mehrtens

CORNELIUS – It’s not a position listed on a football roster. But every team needs leaders.

In Hough High’s case, their influence is huge.

The Huskies, in their third varsity season, have nine seniors who fill that role in various ways. It’s something that was missing the Huskies’ first season (2010) when the school didn’t have seniors.

Hough (7-1) has won seven straight games after losing its opener. The Huskies are 4-0 in the I-MECK 4A conference and tied with Mallard Creek for the lead. They’ve won more games this season than the first two seasons combined.

Hough coach Bobby Collins said the seniors’ guidance is a major reason.

“Everybody brings something to the party that contributes to us winning, on and off the field,” he said. “That makes it pretty good for us.”

The leadership is shown throughout the week – on a bus ride, a quiet moment in the locker room, in class, in the weight room or even away from school. It could be a few words of encouragement or a more serious tone and topic.

Dre’an Long, a running back, said he gladly takes on the role of leader. It’s a duty he relishes.

“I do it for my team,” Long said. “(Seniors) Nick (Burrow), Sanders (Poff),  Blake (Dueitt) and Ryan (Lemke), we all want to win so badly and we care about this team. We’re just doing what’s best for the guys.”

The seniors also comprise Hough’s core group of talent. If underclassmen see them working the hardest, it’s hard to argue with any advice they might offer.

Long has rushed for 870 yards and 15 touchdowns. Burrow has team-high 28 receptions for 473 yards and four touchdowns. Poff’s 22 catches are for 571 yards and seven touchdowns, both team-highs.

Dueitt, a defensive tackle who has committed to Ball State University, has seven sacks and a safety. Lemke leads Hough with 73 tackles.

A lot of the leadership, Collins said, was forged when the Huskies formed in 2010. Josh Stilley became a starter at quarterback as a freshman, a role he maintains as a junior. Center Jacob McCrary has played every snap in Huskies’ three seasons. Guard Christian Walker is also a three-year starter.

“Our first year we experienced a group of young men looking around trying to find leaders,” Collins said.  “We as a coaching staff were forced to put guys in certain roles.

“I’m a firm believer that leaders are born. Everybody can’t do it. In their own special way, each senior has their own special way they lead this football team. I put them all in different situations in practice and off the field, to see some of those qualities.”

Long, who has three games of 150 or more rushing yards, said leaders sometimes play differing roles – a policeman or a cheerleader.

“Football’s an emotional game, and sometimes people get into it (physically),” he said. “We as leaders have to be the ones to step up when things aren’t good and get them going on track. And when things are good, we need to be the guys that keep that going. A lot of it is off the field. Sometimes, in the weight room or in class. Maybe reminding guys to get your grades right and behave.”

Long said he and the other seniors have no qualms about approaching teammates – senior or not – about an issue.

“I feel like we’re a good family here,” he said. “If a guy needs to be talked to, we (seniors) feel comfortable walking up and talking to him. Last year, it was the same way. We had some seniors who did that for me.”

Hough has used balance all season, rushing for an average of 169 yards per game and passing for an average of 188. The Huskies average 30.1 points and scored a season-high 41 last week against West Charlotte.

It’s a much different mindset this year, Long said.

“A year ago, we were focusing on trying to make the playoffs,” he said.

“We were losing close games and our playoff chances were decreasing with every loss. We were worried about that. In the off-season, we started noticing what we had and what we could do this year. I could tell we had something special here.”

Hough’s next two games, both on the road, are against teams with losing records (Mooresville and Lake Norman). Conference co-leader Mallard Creek (6-1) has a similar schedule, facing sub-.500 teams Hopewell and West Charlotte.

If form holds, Hough could be 9-1 going into the Oct. 26 home game against Mallard Creek that could decide the conference championship.