Unlike his Hallandale teammates and coaches who look at last November’s 35-19 loss to Miami Central in the second round of the playoffs like a stomach-churning horror film, Tyler Huntley prefers to sit down and dissect every painful moment of the game as a learning lesson.
He has watched it more than 10 times. Each time, Huntley said he finds more mistakes and missed assignments, things he could have done differently to prevent the Chargers from blowing a 12-point halftime lead to the eventual Class 6A state champions.
It’s surprising he has found much to correct at all. The 6-1, 175-pound quarterback, ranked 31st in the nation by 247Sports.com among pro-style passers, finished 20 of 33 for 275 yards and two touchdowns against Central and finished his junior season with 29 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
“Every time I looked at those national polls last year and saw Central there I thought, ‘Man, that should have been us,’ ” the Utah commitment said Monday before practice.
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“We know we should have been holding that state title.”
Huntley and the Chargers, who finished 10-1 last season, definitely have enough firepower left on offense to give themselves another shot. And this time they won’t have to worry about beating Central, which has won four state titles over the past five years.
The Florida High School Athletic Association bumped Hallandale down into Class 5A. Even though the Chargers are back in the same district with two-time defending state champion American Heritage, a loaded Coconut Creek team and a pretty good Miami Jackson squad, coach Dameon Jones is confident his team is ready to make a climb to the top.
“It’s going to depend a lot on our offense, but we’re not bad on defense,” said Jones, who returns 10 starters from an offense that averaged 38.5 points per game, but must replace nine defensive starters, including four who signed with Florida State, Georgia, Pittsburgh and Temple, respectively.
“We’re not going to be as big up front on defense as we were last year, but we’ve got more speed than a lot of guys who played last year.”
Huntley, though, figures to be the key to it all. In three seasons as the starter he has gone 24-7 and thrown for 5,417 yards and 64 touchdowns. Even with his impressive career numbers, Huntley only played in the second half of five of his team’s 11 games last year because the Chargers were usually up big early.
Although he has thrown 17 career interceptions, he has thrown just six over his past two seasons – or one every 64 pass attempts. He has also completed 55 percent of his passes throughout his career, including 61 percent last year.
His efficiency and ability to evade pressure while still standing in the pocket remind many football gurus of former Miami Northwestern star Teddy Bridgewater, who like Huntley quarterbacked the elite South Florida Express 7-on-7 team and works with famed quarterback instructor Ken Mastrole.
Huntley said he worked out with Bridgewater this summer before the Minnesota Vikings’ 2014 first-round pick went back to Minnesota. Bridgewater, Huntley said, taught him some new footwork techniques so he could release the ball faster.
“He’s that kind of kid,” Jones said of Huntley’s potential to be like Bridgewater and become a starter in the NFL. “I hope he has an inch or two left in him to grow, but he’s got all the tools and the maturity and work ethic.”
Huntley was destined to be a quarterback from the start. His father, a former pitcher at Deerfield Beach High, put him under center at Dania Beach Optimist Parkwhen he was 5 years old. He started every year after that.
Now, as a senior, he has most of those Dania Beach teammates back around him, including four FBS recruits at receiver in Josh Hammond (Florida commit), Damari Simpkins (Utah), Chris Cotto (Western Kentucky) and Neru N’Shaka (Virginia).
“We’ve said we want to average at least 35 minimum because we know the defense is going to have a lot of new guys learning the system,” Hammond said. “But we know the talent we’ve got here is pretty special.”
The Chargers will host Miami High on Aug. 20 in a kickoff classic before opening the season against Cedar Grove (Ga.) in Atlanta on Aug. 28. Hallandale hosts defending Class 7A state champion St. Thomas on Sept. 25 and plays at Heritage on Halloween eve.
“We just have to take no one for granted and no lead for granted, and keep putting points up on the board,” Huntley said. “I know our defense will get stops, and we’ll win.”
DISTRICT 16-5A OVERVIEW
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Binjimen Victor, Coconut Creek: Listed at 6-4, 170 pounds, the U.S. Army All-American caught 44 passes for 811 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and ranks as the ninth-best receiver in the country according to 247Sports.com. Florida, Tennessee and Ohio State are all fighting for his services. Victor was selected to the All-USA Preseason Football team by USA Today.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Trayvon Mullen, Coconut Creek: Part of the reason Victor is so tough to cover is because he goes up against a U.S. Army All-American every day in practice in the 6-1, 172-pound Mullen. LSU, Florida State and Clemson are at the forefront for his services, he tweeted this week. 247Sports.com ranks Mullen as the nation’s third-best cornerback.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Hallandale; 2. American Heritage; 3. Coconut Creek; 4. Jackson; 5. Cardinal Gibbons; 6. Stranahan.
Sept. 5: DeMatha (Md.) at American Heritage; Sept. 18: Coconut Creek at American Heritage; Sept. 25: St. Thomas Aquinas at Hallandale; Oct. 9: Coconut Creek at Hallandale; Oct. 30: Hallandale at American Heritage.