The Real Deal: RB Josh Huffaker

Nothing is a "given" in high school football. Your team can have all the talent, speed, power and athleticism that a high school team can muster, yet maybe not reach their full potential.

Over the last 4 years, the Powell Panthers have been one such team. With big names like Watts, Bruhin, McGaha, Huber, Smith, McKinney and Galyon, many prognosticators have chosen the Panthers to challenge for 1st or 2nd place in their region every year.

But with third place being the highest Powell has ascended recently, the Panther's have often been labeled underachievers. Given the fact that ex-head coach Larry Stephens retired twice last year (once before the season, once after) and that this senior class is now on head coach #2, "underachievers" might be a little unfair.

In speaking to Powell RB Josh Huffaker, one gets the sense the Panthers have heard their critics. Huffaker is one of many that believe Powell can still be a surprise team going into the final two games of the year and could even play spoiler in the playoffs, if they get the chance.

TN Prep Sports asked Huffaker about Powell's chances in the playoff picture, about mega rivalries and about how the new spread option offense has changed his role and breathed new life into the Panther offensive attack…

TPS: Being one of several high powered football programs in Knoxville, you get to be a part of some pretty special rivalries. Explain the feelings and emotions that surround the Halls, Central and Maryville games as a player.

Josh: Our biggest rivalry is Halls for sure. It's amazing how big the rivalry is between these two teams. Mainly because they're only 2.5 miles up the road, and when we play them we know that no matter what happens we have to come out with a win.

The Central rivalry isn't as big of a rivalry as it used to be, but it's still a big game that we always need to win. The rivalry between Maryville and us is growing. We haven't beaten them in years and we know how sweet it would be to take them down.

TPS: The biggest news for the Panthers for the second half of the season has been the emergence of the spread option offense that took place of Powell's aging I formation attack. What have been the major differences in the two offenses, besides more wins?

Josh: I like our new offense. It's definitely different for me, but I really like it. It's different for me because I've never been in a three point stance before, but I'm handling that well. I can't really see as well as I could when I was in the "I", but once it opens up I can see all that I need to see.

TPS: You mentioned in a previous conversation that the new offense has meant less carries for Powell's RB's, namely you. What has your role morphed into since the offensive change? How have you taken the changes?

Josh: In this new offense you can't think about yourself at all, you've got to work with everyone in order for it to work. You have to make sure you do your job and block for your buddy that's running next to you. You have to make sure you're hitting it where you should at exactly the right time and you've got to carry out your fakes good.

I've taken the changes very well. I'm not as worried about my stats as much as I am winning, and that's what we're doing and that's all that matters.

TPS: Speaking of new, you have a new head coach this year in Matt Lowe. How has the team responded to Coach Lowe's style and the way he challenges this Panther team?

Josh: The team has responded great. Coach Lowe's a great coach, and everything that we do is full of intensity. The team really feeds off of the intensity and energy that he brings to the practices and our games.

TPS: You play DB for the Panthers as well. If I had the power to make you choose either DB or RB, which would you play? Why? Which do you think you're better suited to and why?

Josh: I would definitely choose to play RB just because that's what I feel that I am better at. I also feel that I'm definitely suited better for RB because I'm only 5'7, which doesn't really matter as a RB. But when a team has a tall receiver all that they have to do is throw it over you.

TPS: The Central/Powell game is always a slugfest, since many of you guys grew up together and are good friends. What were the keys of the game that led up to last Friday's outcome?

Josh: Friday night's game was a good one; we just couldn't pull it out in the end. Our defense played a really good game and gave our offense plenty of chances. We just couldn't capitalize on those chances.

TPS: Looking back the week before at the Halls game, or "The Battle of Emory Road", it was an equally thrilling 12 round heavyweight bout with a nail biting 7-6 finish. With 4 games being decided by 7 or less points, do you all ever get tired of giving people heart attacks with these scores?

Josh: It's tough playing in games that are this close. I mean, I would love to be watching a game that's as close as some of ours, but it's nerve racking playing in it. Our team has done a great job of handling these very close games, and I feel that it will help us in the end because we know how to hold onto a game in the fourth quarter as well as come back and win it.

TPS: Looking ahead, the road doesn't get much easier. You'll be locked in a life or death struggle for the 3rd or 4th playoff spot with West in Week 9. What will it take from this Panther squad to hold West's offensive stars Jake Ryan and Ken Easterly in check and get by a "bend but don't break" West defense?

Josh: Jake Ryan and Ken Easterly are great players, but I feel like we have one of the best defenses around here and there's no doubt in my mind that we can stop them. Our offense is just going to have to step up and play like we can.

TPS: You have the privilege of running behind one of the most powerful offensive lines in East TN. How does it feel when the line is leaning downhill on opposing defensive lines and opening big holes?

Josh: It's great! I couldn't ask to be running behind any bigger guys when McGaha and Bruhin are in there. Some of our guy's aren't as big as they are, but they're definitely well coached, and they use what Coach Smith has taught them in order to block about anyone.

TPS: You had an incredible 40 yard TD run vs. Maryville that seemed to lift the offense. Take us back to that play and explain the sights and emotions of a big play like that.

Josh: It was early in the game and I knew if we were going to pull this one out we would have to get on the board quick.

We ran a counter to the right and there was a hole and I just cut back a little then ran as fast as I could to the pylon.

Steven Shiver almost caught me, but I ended up crossing the goal line. That play definitely got our team pumped and ready to go play, but we just couldn't make anything else happen after that.

TPS: Can the Panthers be the surprise team of the playoffs in 2006?

Josh: Of course. We haven't played to our potential yet. As soon as we do I feel that we can beat about anyone.

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