Atlanta football team eager for a return to the playoffs

ATLANTA–After getting its first taste of success in a long time last season, the Atlanta football team is ready for an encore in 2018.

In their first season of eight-player football, the Huskies went 5-5, made the Division II eight-player playoffs and finished the regular season with a winning record for the first time since 2013.

With a year of experience under their belts, the Huskies’ expectations have heightened and they’re eager for a return appearance in the postseason.

Atlanta hasn’t made the playoffs in consecutive years since 1994-95.

“It was definitely a shot in the arm. We had six seniors last year and they were the core of our team. They worked hard all season and the younger guys we have back this year learned a lot from it,” Atlanta coach Troy Cheedie said of the Huskies’ 2017 season. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a winning season and they’re eager to step up this year and try to do it again.”

Getting back there won’t be easy, but the Huskies are realistic about their chances. Gone are six graduated seniors who played several key positions. The schedule looks different too with the Huskies renewing some local rivalries.

“We’re a young team, but we have some talent. We have one senior and four juniors on the team this year. But everybody who has played has played PeeWee football since fifth and sixth grade,” Cheedie said. “We’re expecting to improve on (last) season if we can keep everybody healthy.”

That youth movement starts under center where sophomore Aaron Cuzzort steps into the quarterback position after the graduation of longtime starter Austin Corbin.

Cuzzort played as a freshman last season, but missed several games after breaking his ankle. Last September, Cuzzort impressed in a win over Grand Traverse Academy, scoring three different ways in an eight-minute span.

He’ll enter this season with better football sense, more speed and more strength.

“He’s worked a lot. He’s in the weight room and he’s gotten stronger. I think he’s gotten a little faster and he’s spent a lot of time over the summer looking at tape from last year,” Cheedie said. “He’s got a lot of sense about the reads and he’s learned a lot before we even hit the field.”

In the back field, Atlanta will use a by-committee approach as sophomores Doug Blancett and Ethan Byrne and Dawson Currie and a freshman Trace Juergens are all in the mix at running back. After graduating Reece Wood and Dallas Robertson, Cheedie is looking for someone to take control of the position as time goes on.

“That’s kind of our game plan. They’re all kind of young, so we’ll look for one of those guys to step up.” Cheedie said. “Whoever does the best job is going to get the job.”

Returning junior Zach Roux will be one of Cuzzort’s main pass catchers at tight end.

On the offensive line, Atlanta’s only senior Manny Diaz returns and will be joined by junior Joe Teets and sophomore Scott Burcicki. Juniors Dalton Forester and Devon Neilsen, sophomore Steven Bilski and freshman Cody Griffin are also in the mix.

Diaz–Atlanta’s leading tackler last season with 99 total tackles– and Burcicki will anchor the defensive line and Currie will be one of Atlanta’s mainstays at linebacker. Byrne, Blancett and Juergens are among those who could see time in the defensive back field.

After traveling a lot last season, the Huskies are looking forward to playing more at home. They have four home games scheduled for 2018 after being limited to one and a half last season.

Along with more home games, many of Atlanta’s opponents will look familiar to fans. With the expansion of the Midwest Central Michigan 8-Man Conference, Atlanta’s schedule this season includes games with schools like Hale and Onaway. The Huskies will also get to renew local rivalries with Hillman and Atlanta.

Atlanta and Posen haven’t officially played since 2008 and Hillman was missing from Atlanta’s schedule last season for perhaps the first time in program history.

“That’s going to be exciting, especially Posen. Next to Hillman, I remember when I was in high school, Posen was our next biggest rival. They’ve been to eight-man for awhile and Atlanta hasn’t played them,” Cheedie said. “It’ll be exciting to play Hillman this year, to get the trophy going back and forth will be a good thing.”

The Huskies received several compliments about their competitiveness in their first season of eight-player football and despite having younger players, Cheedie hopes his team can still take some teams by surprise.

“I think we will definitely be capable of doing that (shocking teams). A lot of teams may look at our roster and be like, ‘Holy Cow, they only have four juniors and a senior,’ but our sophomore class and the freshmen are all really good athletes,” he said.